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Hydrology of the North Fork St. Lucie River Quick Topics

The hydrology of the North Fork and its headwaters was altered in the early to mid 1900s to support the growing demands of development and navigation. This began with a network of agricultural and residential canals and drainages. Prior to these drainage efforts the North Fork St. Lucie River (SLR) watershed encompassed 187 square miles. The primary canal system developed includes the C-44 (St. Lucie Canal), C-23 (County Line Canal), and C-24 (Diversion Canal). Construction of these canals has expanded the watershed to 821 square miles by diverting flows from other areas to the North Fork.

Watershed map of North Fork St. Lucie River

Alteration and expansion of the historic watershed coupled with ecologically-degrading land use practices have set the stage for the current impaired condition of the North Fork and most other SLR watershed basins. Historic wetland ecosystems facilitated dynamic watershed storage and sheet flow. Reduced movement through natural features kept wetlands flooded and provided for movement of groundwater to the river during the dry season. This made historic wetlands and estuaries less vulnerable to Florida's variable rainfall.

In 1922 the headwaters of the North Fork were dredged for flood control and navigation. Spoil deposited along the newly-created channel isolated both floodplain habitat and oxbows from the original rivercourse. This left canals with steep banks and narrow remains of floodplain habitats degraded by dense stands of non-native vegetation. Thus, a significant portion of the river's potential natural filtration of nutrients and sediments is not utilized to its full capacity.

Today, much of the watershed runoff from the North Fork drainage basins flows quickly from smaller, residential canals into large canals that cross the coastal ridge instead of being detained, evaporated, cleansed, and held by natural systems. Rapid movement of excess stormwater produced during the wet season to the North Fork coupled with increased demand for water for agriculture and urban uses result in an unnaturally high volume of water reaching the North Fork in the wet season and a low volume of water during the dry season.









Last updated: April 06, 2015

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