Why is Hydrology Restoration needed?
The 200 miles of Refuge roads and trails are former logging roads constructed to access timber stands. Natural hydrologic flow and connections to the Suwannee River Sound, estuary, and Big Bend region of the Gulf of Mexico is negatively impacted by this old road network. The roads function the same way levees or dikes would. They impound the water and in many instances redirect it into culverts, disrupting natural sheet flow. This blockage of surface flow means that much of the water does not make it to the estuary. It is detained long enough to evaporate inland altering the estuarine balance and the ecology and productivity of the nearshore waters. This affects freshwater and marine fisheries that are important for recreation and commerce.
Was the Proposed Project Approved?
The Hydrology Restoration Project received approval and initial funding in 2018. Andrew reported that the next step was to obtain detailed engineering studies of the specific areas where changes should be made. The Refuge decided to focus first on the public driving roads, the Dixie Mainline, its spurs, and the Nature Drive and its spurs. The secondary roads will be addressed later, but remedying the public driving roads is a first priority and would use all the funding available in the initial grant.
The Refuge worked with the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), which has abundant expertise in water studies. SRWMD issued a Request for Quotations to identify an appropriate consulting firm for an Engineering and Design Study. The purpose of the study was to lay out various options to achieve our restoration goals.
What is happening now?
The Refuge has been approved to move to the implementation phases of this massive restoration project. It has received approval, in principle, for about $6 million and is now applying for the final funding needed for specific components of the implementation, which will take place on both sides of the Suwannee River. All federal guidelines need to be followed for contracting. The interaction of land and water in drought and in flooding is complex. Exacting attention needs to be paid to what the Engineering and Design Study found and, frankly, to the knowledge the Refuge staff have from the years of on-the-ground work and observation.