Water in rivers, streams and lakes, and underground is a critical component of Alachua County's natural resource base, its ecology, its economy and its residents' quality of life. Water is a finite resource - all the water we have is what exists on our earth at this time. Although the vast majority of the Earth's surface is covered with water, the oceans and seas are salty. Only 3% is fresh - and two-thirds of that is ice. This means that only about half a percent of our planet's water resources is fresh water. Of these fresh water resources, 0.02% is found in rivers, lakes and streams while the rest, 0.48%, is ground water. This tiny fraction of fresh water sustains a multitude of very specific life forms, including our own. In addition, lakes, rivers, and streams provide boating, swimming, fishing, and other forms of recreation.
The groundwater system is the principal source of water for domestic, agricultural, and industrial use in Alachua County. There are three aquifer systems present in Alachua County: the surficial aquifer system, the intermediate aquifer system and the Floridan aquifer system. The Floridan aquifer system underlies the entire County. The surficial and intermediate aquifer systems are present only in the eastern portion of the County. Groundwater quality is generally good. However, with the potential for groundwater pollution, particularly in the area where the Floridan Aquifer is unconfined and the numerous stream to sink basins, it is necessary to continue monitoring groundwater on a long-term basis.
The surface water systems of Alachua County include areas of standing and flowing water, whether permanent, intermittent, or temporary, as well as the wetlands and floodplains associated with them. The rivers and streams that flow through Alachua County historically meandered through broad floodplains. Because of urbanization and agriculture, these broad floodplains have been restricted to narrower belts along the rivers and streams or otherwise modified for flood control.
Surface water types in Alachua County include sand-bottomed creeks, large calcareous streams, springs, lakes, and ponds. Characteristics of these surface water bodies, as well as common plants and animals associated with them, are described in the context of three major study areas of water systems health: the Santa Fe River and springs, the Orange Creek Basin Study, and urban streams and creeks.
A great wealth of wildlife may be found frequenting surface waters, and nearly all species do so at times. They may thus be considered as components of the surface water communities. Some species, however, may be considered as being truly aquatic, relying on those habitats for survival at nearly all times. For example, the Suwannee Cooter, the Florida Chorus Frog and the Pugnose Minnow are species which are endemic to aquatic communities in Alachua County. Although the species may be found in other portions of Florida, they are found no where else in the world.
"Wetlands" is the collective term for marshes, swamps, bogs, and similar areas, like those found within the landscape of Paynes Prairie. Wetlands are found in flat vegetated areas, in depressions on the landscape, and between water and dry land along the edges of streams, rivers, lakes, and coastlines.
Wetlands help maintain and improve the water quality of our nation's streams, rivers, lakes, and estuaries. Since wetlands are located between uplands and water resources, many can intercept runoff from the land before it reaches open water. As runoff and surface water pass through, wetlands remove or transform pollutants through physical, chemical, and biological processes.
In their natural state, wetlands perform ecological functions that are vitally important to the environment and economic health of the nation and impossible or costly to replace. Nevertheless, wetlands historically have been viewed as mosquito-ridden wastelands and impediments to development because of their saturated and frequently flooded conditions. The importance of wetlands to fish and wildlife, clean water, and flood control has gone largely unappreciated as draining and filling operations have destroyed more than 50% of wetlands nationwide.
Loss and degradation of Florida's wetlands and their associated functions have contributed to problems, such as flooding, poor water quality, and habitat loss. In recent decades, a number of federal, state, and local government programs have been developed for preserving wetlands. Although the rate of loss has slowed markedly, both conservation and regulatory approaches typically have not been effective in preventing continued, large and small-scale losses and degradation.
Good planning and design are the best approaches to reduce or eliminate many of these adverse effects on wetlands. Of course, the best approach is to avoid wetlands in the first place. However, if that is not possible, regulatory programs at the federal, state, regional, and local levels have been established to review these kinds of activities and to prevent or minimize damage to wetlands or water quality.
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