For years, the Chassahowitzka River was a hidden gem in Citrus County, displaying the natural beauty of “old Florida.” The lovely river flows 5.6 miles from the headwaters to where it meets the Gulf of Mexico at Chassahowitzka Bay. This river is home to many different species of birds, fish and other wildlife.
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Today, hundreds of visitors flock to the Chassahowitzka River where people enjoy paddling or boating along the water, camping near its banks, and exploring the springs that form the headwaters of the river in order to take a peek. eye in the Florida aquifer. The constant 72-degree waters of the springs year-round also make it a popular place to spot manatees seeking warmer waters during the winter months.
But our enthusiasm for nature can also lead to its deterioration. During the pandemic, more people sought out outdoor activities. And like many of our springs, the Chassahowitzka River has seen an increase in traffic. But guests can unknowingly harm our beautiful resources.
Some of the problems include scarring from boat props and shoreline erosion. Visitors park kayaks and other paddle boats on the banks, eroding the shores. This can lead to increased sedimentation in the river, which adversely affects the health of the system. Improper setting of boat propellers on this shallow river can lead to propeller scars in submerged aquatic vegetation. It can take six months or more to return, and sometimes the vegetation may never return without the help of restoration efforts.
In addition, while walking along the shore, visitors often trample the vegetation. This trampling kills plants that help maintain water quality, stabilize the shoreline, and provide habitat and food for a variety of animals. Visitors also climb and jump from trees, which can damage them.
One of the biggest problems along the Chassahowitzka River is that waste is left on the bank or dumped into the river. Last year, staff members from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (district) volunteered their time picking up trash in and along the river. In just a few hours, they filled half a dozen garbage bags with aluminum cans, bottles, broken glass, cigarettes and even a barbecue.
This year, the theme for Save Our Waters Week is “Save Our Water…Plan Smart”. And the district believes that with smart planning, we can all protect the Chassahowitzka River.
The river is designated a priority water body for surface water improvement and management (SWIM) by the district, and the district is required to develop a comprehensive conservation and management plan known as a SWIM plan. . This plan was approved in 2017 in collaboration with other local, regional and state agencies. The living document describes projects and initiatives that can help protect the system.
For example, our scientists map submerged aquatic vegetation in the Chassahowitzka River twice a year to monitor the health of the river. This type of vegetation is an important component of the ecosystem because it can improve water quality, stabilize sediments, and provide habitat and food for manatees.
But protecting the Chassahowitzka River is a community effort, and there are simple steps we can all take to do our part. The district has partnered with Discover Crystal River, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office and other local government agencies to educate visitors on eight tips people should remember to help protect the Chassahowitzka River. They are:
Stay in the ship when possible.
If you must leave the ship, moor in shallow water.
Avoid landing on the banks.
Do not trample vegetation or lift silt.
Do not climb trees or use swings.
Do not litter or leave anything behind.
Cut boat engines to avoid propeller scarring.
By following these simple tips, you can help protect springs and many other natural systems you may visit. You can find more information by visiting Water Matters.org/ProtectChass. On this site you can order educational posters, watch videos and subscribe to our Springs newsletter.
Let’s work together to protect our natural treasures.
Dr. Madison Trowbridge is the Springs Scientist and Springs Team Leader for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. She holds a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of South Florida.
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