Every year about 2.5 million people visit public conservation lands obtained by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and its partners to protect Florida’s water resources.
Balancing water needs.
Protecting the environment.
The District was created in 1961 by the Florida Legislature to protect the water resources of the region. The District includes roughly 10,000 square miles in all or part of 16 counties in west-central Florida that were home to a population of more than 5.5 million people in 2021 (BEBR, 2022). The boundaries of the District extend north into Levy County, south into Charlotte County and inland into Polk and Highlands counties.
The region’s lands and waters are forever linked by Florida’s natural water cycles. Therefore, one of the main ways the District carries out its mission of balancing water needs and protecting the environment is by obtaining conservation lands around lakes, rivers, wetlands and estuaries. These lands serve as a natural buffer that filters out pollution from runoff before it reaches the nearest body of water. The District also buys lands to preserve and restore native Florida ecosystems that provide water resources benefits and water storage during hurricanes and other major storm events. The District’s acquisition program has primarily been funded through state programs such as Save Our Rivers, Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever.
The District manages its conservation lands to maintain and protect vital water functions and natural systems, which include Florida’s unique plant and wildlife communities. Two primary management tools include mimicking the natural fire cycle that historically shaped Florida’s landscape and restoring areas that have been altered by previous activities. At any time, the public may encounter District staff using methods such as prescribed burns, mechanical mowing of vegetation, and seeding and planting of vegetation. These management techniques help to maintain healthy and abundant populations of game species, such as deer and turkey, and are important for most of Florida’s threatened and endangered species.
Public Use and Recreation
While District lands vary in size and terrain, they all have at least one thing in common — they provide a variety of important benefits to the water and water-related resources within west-central Florida. Nearly all these lands are available for public use and recreation. Nature-friendly activities offer an easy and fun experience while making sure the land is protected. In keeping with the purpose for which these lands were acquired, your experience will be close to nature. That means mostly unpaved roads, portable restrooms and nature’s beauty all around you.
Did you know that many state and local parks and state forest areas are owned by the District? The District, in partnership with state and local governments, has developed parks with facilities such as picnic pavilions, nature trails, environmental education centers, restrooms and camping areas. The District usually provides the land and funding to build most of the facilities, while the partner provides the on-site staff to manage the parks on a daily basis.