Upper Suwannee River & Springs Minimum Flows & Levels
About the Upper Suwannee River
The Suwannee River, at approximately 246 miles long, is the second largest river system in Florida. Originating at its headwaters in the Okefenokee Swamp in southeastern Georgia, the Suwannee River flows south and southwest to the Gulf of Mexico. The river derives its tannic color from decaying vegetation in the Okefenokee Swamp and maintains a black tint as it flows south.
Portions of the Suwannee River encompass unique combinations of water sources, groundwater interactions, and aquatic and floodplain habitats. For this reason, the river was divided into three separate reaches for minimum flows and levels (MFL) development. A detailed study in each portion allowed full consideration of the varied characteristics of this 246-mile long waterway.
The Upper Suwannee River study area extends 79 river miles from the Florida-Georgia border to just below the confluence with the Withlacoochee River near Ellaville, Florida. The Alapaha and Withlacoochee rivers are two major tributaries that enter the Upper Suwannee River. The Suwannee River, including the Upper Suwannee River study area, has been designated an Outstanding Florida Water (Chapter 62-302.700). This designation is conferred to waters of the state with "exceptional recreational or ecological significance."
A total of 197 springs have been reported in the Suwannee River basin; the majority of the springs located in the Upper Suwannee River are located between Suwannee Springs and Ellaville. The springs play a vital role in the ecological health of the Upper Suwannee River. Two springs of particular interest to the study area are White Sulfur Springs and Suwannee Springs. The Upper Suwannee River includes a number of important conservation areas, including three state parks, District-owned lands and various county and municipal parks. There are numerous opportunities for recreation on the Upper Suwannee that include, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and smaller vessel boating.
River & Springs Minimum Flows & Levels
The District's Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs) program is a means to ensure water availability for the present and future, and to prevent "significant harm" to the area's natural resources. The Florida Legislature has directed the five water management districts to establish MFLs for streams, springs, rivers, lakes and other priority water bodies. As defined by statute (Section 373.042 Florida Statutes), "the minimum flow for a given watercourse shall be the limit at which further withdrawals would be significantly harmful to the water resources or ecology of the area."
The District has an accelerated schedule to establish MFLs for its priority water bodies. The District's MFL Program is a science-based process, which the District Governing Board uses to establish MFLs. The science supporting the MFLs will undergo a peer review process initiated by the District before rule adoption by the Governing Board.
All MFLs established by the District are voluntarily submitted to independent scientific peer review. This practice ensures that the highest degree of scientific certainty is provided prior to adopting a MFL by rule.