Your Questions Answered
The Weeki Wachee River has been a popular site for recreational activities for many years. Recently, both public and private stakeholders agreed to take a closer look at what steps should be taken now to ensure the waterway is protected for years to come. Randy Smith, Natural Systems & Restoration Bureau Chief for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, explains the results of the recently completed Weeki Wachee Carrying Capacity Study.
Q: What is the Weeki Wachee Carrying Capacity Study?
A: The Weeki Wachee Carrying Capacity Study is an ecologically-based study of the Weeki Wachee River in Hernando County. The goal of the study was to evaluate the effects of recreational use on the natural systems of the river, as its growing popularity and increased visitor traffic have led to concerns about potential degradation of the river and its ecosystems.
Q: Who conducted the study?
A: Third-party consultant Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, Inc. conducted the study from July 2018 to June 2019 and provided unbiased, scientific findings. The study was managed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) and co-funded by the District and Hernando County, with in-kind support from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Q: What did the study show?
A: The study results show a link between recreational activities and negative environmental impacts on the river. The consultant provided a menu of policy and management options for governing agencies with jurisdiction and authority to consider implementing to reduce recreational impacts on the river.
Q: How many recreational users should be allowed on the Weeki Wachee River?
A: The study did not set a numerical limit of recreational users. In fact, the results show that managing the kinds of activities on the river is just as important, if not more important, as capping the number of people on the river. The primary reason a single carrying capacity based on vessels/users could not be recommended is because the number of vessels/users alone did not cause the ecological and water quality impacts. The study showed that activities in the water and on the banks of the river are causing significant cumulative impacts to the system.
Q: What’s the next step now that the study is complete?
A: One suggestion from the study is to create a working group made up of governing agencies with different areas of expertise and authority. The working group would evaluate the recommendations from the study, including future actions, management options and funding needs, and work with the public to find the right balance between recreational use and river protection. The District would be a partner in the working group, committed to providing technical expertise and funding to implement future projects to restore the river in areas impacted by recreation.
Q: Who has authority over the Weeki Wachee River?
A: Jurisdiction over the Weeki Wachee River is complicated with various governing agencies involved. Along with the District, Hernando County, the Hernando County Sherriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission all play a role in protecting the river.
Q: What can I do to help protect the river?
A: Stay in your vessel when possible, and if you leave the vessel, tie off in shallow waters; avoid docking on river banks; don’t trample vegetation or kick up silt; don’t climb on banks or climb trees to jump in the river or swing on rope swings; and don’t throw out litter or leave anything behind.
Natural Systems & Restoration Bureau Chief
Southwest Florida Water Management District