What’s the Project?
A 125-acre constructed enhancement wetland will polish the base flow from Sweetwater Branch before it is discharged to a mile long sheetflow distribution channel. Two miles of agricultural drainage canals in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park will be filled in. This will restore the historic Sheetflow to over 1300 acres of wetlands on Paynes Prairie. The project includes several recreational opportunities for the citizens of Gainesville. A network of trails will allow visitors to walk along the berms that form the enhancement wetland. An outdoor classroom will provide a sheltered place for school groups to gather and learn more about wetlands and their role in Florida’s environment. A viewing tower and Visitors Center have been planned as future additions to the park. The tower will provide unsurpassed views of Paynes Prairie in a location easily accessible to Downtown Gainesville. The solar panels on the roof of the tower will provide electrical energy to the Visitors’ Center.
Figure 1: Enhancement Wetland
Why are we building a wetland?
The natural sheetflow of Sweetwater Branch onto the Prairie was disrupted by ranchers in the 1930s, when they constructed a ditch to drain portions of the Prairie to expand grazing areas. The ditch diverts the Sweetwater Branch flow directly to Alachua Sink, and has resulted in the dehydration and alteration of over 1,300 acres of prairie wetlands. In addition, the direct connection of Sweetwater Branch to Alachua Sink provides a more direct conduit into the Floridan Aquifer. This channelization of Sweetwater Branch through the Prairie has prevented natural attenuation of the nutrients and has depreciated the water quality flowing into Alachua Sink.
Since most of the urban development in the Sweetwater Branch drainage area occurred long before modern stormwater management and other pollution control regulations, Sweetwater Branch, and in turn the Prairie have been heavily impacted by stormwater runoff. The Main Street Water Reclamation Facility also discharges treated effluent to Sweetwater Branch and is the main contributor of nutrients to the stream.
Alachua Sink is a small lake located within Paynes Prairie, which receives flow from Sweetwater Branch and flows into a sinkhole with direct connection to the Floridan aquifer. Alachua Sink is currently listed as an impaired water body due to high nitrogen levels. A total maximum daily load (TMDL) has been developed for Alachua Sink, which will require reductions in total nitrogen loads from urban runoff, wastewater discharge and other sources.
Figure 2: Public Trails Network
How does the Project improve our environment?
The proposed Sweetwater Branch/Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Restoration project provides a unique and innovative approach to achieving the regulatory water quality improvements, while providing additional environmental benefits:
1. Restore the natural water flow to over 1,300 acres of formerly-impacted wetlands in Paynes Prairie;
2. Create about 125 acres of high-quality wetland habitat;
3. Provide recreation and environmental education opportunities;
4. Protect and improve water quality in Alachua Sink, and the Floridan Aquifer, and;
5. Increase the acreage of conservation lands within the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
Figure 3: Entry to Visitor Center
How did the City get the land?
Most of the project site is located within the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The City of Gainesville, St. Johns River Water Management District, and Alachua County Forever jointly purchased 276 acres of ranch lands located on the southern rim of Paynes Prairie, in August of 2009. Two thirds of the property was jointly donated by the St. Johns River Water Management District and the City of Gainesville to the State of Florida in exchange for a 225 acre easement over the project site. The donated property is now part of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The remaining acreage is owned by Alachua County and will be managed to conserve wildlife. An additional 3.7 acres of the project site is owned by Alachua County. This property is adjacent to Williston Road and will be used to provide public access to the project site. The City of Gainesville and Alachua County are currently involved in negotiations to facilitate the purchase of the remaining parcel.
Figure 4. Solar Viewing Tower
How is this funded?
The proposed Sweetwater Branch/Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Restoration Project will require commitment from multiple organizations to implement. The estimated overall project cost is $26 million with an annual recurring operations and maintenance cost of about $1.3 million. The City of Gainesville has received a total of $3.1 million in funding assistance for land acquisition, design and construction. The City is continuing to pursue grant funding and cost sharing opportunities with project partners that include the St Johns River Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, The US Environmental Protection Agency and Alachua County. The City’s goal is to obtain a total of 25% funding assistance. The balance of the funding will come from the Public Works-Stormwater and Gainesville Regional Utilities-Wastewater Capital Improvements budgets.
For additional information, please contact:
Stu Pearson, P.E.
Gainesville Public Works
Alice Rankeillor, P.E.
GRU Strategic Planning
Last updated November 4, 2013