Today, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard joined State Senator Rob Bradley and other state and local officials for the groundbreaking of an important regional water quality restoration project.
The Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Restoration Project represents a $26 million investment to create 125 acres of new wetlands and restore 1,300 acres of natural wetlands within Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The project is an innovative solution to correct the disruption of the natural ecosystem that occurred in the 1930s and will improve and preserve regional surface water and groundwater resources.
“The Department has developed an approach to environmental protection focused on solid research and aggressive restoration. We realize that understanding the problems of the past is the first step in moving forward to solve them,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard, Jr. “We are thrilled that innovative local solutions like this bring environmental restoration to the doorstep of everyone in Alachua County.”
The project includes improvements to the wastewater discharge from Gainesville Regional Utilities’ Main Street Plant. And, by creating additional wetlands and restoring the natural water flow in this part of Paynes Prairie, urban stormwater runoff, septic system leachate and other nonpoint sources will no longer discharge excess levels of nitrogen directly into Alachua Sink and the Floridan Aquifer.
“This project allows the City of Gainesville to comply with more stringent water quality standards while meeting broader community objectives to restore wetlands and create public recreational amenities,” said David Richardson, Assistant General Manager for Water/Wastewater Systems with Gainesville Regional Utilities. “The Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Restoration Project demonstrates that creative communities and partners can pool resources to do more together than they can individually.”
The natural flow of water will be restored by removing the nearly two-mile long Sweetwater canal. This will allow rehydration of the wetlands and improve the quality of lands within the state park. The project will also remove debris and sediment from Sweetwater Branch and Paynes Prairie Preserve and provide recreational and education opportunities.
Project partners include the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the St. Johns River Water Management District, Alachua County and Gainesville Regional Utilities. The Department has contributed $2.7 million in grant funding to assist with the project.
“The St. Johns River Water Management District is proud to be a partner in this restoration project,” said Robert Christianson, director of the Division of Operations and Land Resources. “The District has provided land for the project and funding for technical design assistance. It is a great partnership that will restore natural water flow, significantly improve water quality flowing into Paynes Prairie and create high-quality wetland habitat.”
The project is part of the overall Orange Creek Basin restoration plan adopted by the Department in 2008. It has been designed to meet the required 45 percent reduction of nitrogen to Alachua Sink associated with the Gainesville Stormwater Management Utility and the Florida Department of Transportation’s stormwater system. Along with Gainesville Regional Utilities’ wastewater improvements, these nitrogen reductions will help restore Alachua Sink and enable it to maintain its designated recreational use as well as a healthy, well-balanced population of fish and wildlife.