William "Bill" Cleckley
Director - Land Management and
Director - Resource Regulation Division
Director - Resource Management Division
Director - Division of Administration
The Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD or District) stretches from the St. Marks River Basin in Jefferson County to the Perdido River in Escambia County. The District is one of five water management districts in Florida created by the Water Resources Act of 1972. The District has worked for decades to protect and manage water resources in a sustainable manner for the continued welfare of people and natural systems across its 16-county region. It serves Bay, Calhoun, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Leon, Liberty, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla, Walton, Washington and western Jefferson County.
Within the District's 11,305-square-mile area, there are several major hydrologic (or drainage) basins: Perdido River and Bay System, Pensacola Bay System (Escambia, Blackwater and Yellow Rivers), Choctawhatchee River and Bay System, St. Andrew Bay System, Apalachicola River and Bay System and St. Marks River Basin (Wakulla River).
A nine member Governing Board, appointed by the Governor and confirmed
by the Florida Senate, guides District activities. Board members
serve four-year terms without compensation and may be reappointed.
An Executive Director oversees a staff of approximately 100 that includes
hydrologists, geologists, biologists, engineers, planners, foresters,
land managers and various administrative personnel.
The Mission of the Northwest Florida Water Management
District is to implement the provisions of Chapter 373, Water Resources,
in a manner that best ensures the continued welfare of the residents
and natural systems of northwest Florida.
The Goals of the District are:
- to ensure an adequate
supply of water for all reasonable and beneficial purposes through
the promotion of conservation, resource protection
and development of alternative supplies
- to provide for the protection
and enhancement of natural systems through integrated land and
water resource management programs
- to minimize harm from flooding
and otherwise protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents
of the region
- to protect,
maintain and improve the quality of the water resource
- to enhance public awareness, understanding
and participation in comprehensive water resource management
develop the District's overall water management capabilities, expertise
and abilities to provide technical assistance
for local needs
Managing Our Water Resources
A number of activities
are undertaken to address the water resource issues facing this
region. Managing these resources involves
balancing varying water uses and demands with
Conflicting priorities often must be addressed to ensure that
there are sufficient water supplies for human needs while maintaining
water quality and viable, functioning natural systems.
Several programs are implemented
through resource management. Some of these include stormwater monitoring,
management plans, wellhead protection and surface and ground
water quality monitoring.
The Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Program remains an important resource management program. Through the SWIM
Program, begun in 1987, water bodies in need of restoration or protection
are identified and water quality, water quantity, habitat and overall
management of the system are assessed. SWIM plans have been developed
for the Apalachicola River and Bay, Lake Jackson,
Pensacola Bay System, St. Marks and Wakulla River System, St. Andrew Bay and Choctawhatchee
River and Bay.
Long-term planning is essential to protect these natural resources.
In recent years, a District Water Management Plan was developed that
will help guide water management decisions for the next 20 years.
Several permitting programs
are implemented District-wide. Through the Consumptive Use Program,
the District's water supplies are
allocated in a manner that is reasonable-beneficial, in the public
interest and which does not have a deleterious impact on existing
legal users or the resource.
Well construction rules and permits help safeguard
our water supplies. Proper construction of new wells and proper plugging
of old or abandoned
wells keep pollutants out of the ground water. In 2006, the Florida Legislature delegated the authority to implement the Environmental Resource Permitting program to the District. Other permitting programs
regulate the construction and repair of dams, projects involving
artificial recharge of water into any underground
formation and agricultural, forestry and wetland projects that manage, store and drain surface waters.
Land acquisition programs, such as Save Our Rivers,
Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever, have allowed the District to purchase more
acres throughout the Panhandle so that the area's water resources
be permanently conserved and preserved. These acquisitions
protect many important wetland and natural vegetation communities,
river floodplains, headwater wetlands, coastal marshes and
springs and pristine bottomland hardwood and associated upland forests.
More than 85 percent of the floodplains along the Choctawhatchee
and Escambia rivers and the Econfina Creek have been acquired
by the District.
Every acre of District-owned land is available to the general public
for a wide variety of resource-based recreational purposes which
take into consideration the environmental sensitivity of the land.
District land may be used for bird-watching, nature study, photography,
hiking, jogging, camping, fishing, hunting, swimming, canoeing, boating
and other nature-related outdoor activities. Click here for more information about the Lands Acquisition Program.
Ground water provides most of
the water supply for northwest Florida. More than 80 percent of
the area's potable water is derived from
ground water. Four major ground water systems can be found
in this region: the Surficial Aquifer System (which includes the
Gravel Aquifer), the Intermediate System, the Floridan Aquifer
System and the Sub-Floridan System. The Floridan and the Sand
and Gravel Aquifer supply most of the ground water in this
The Floridan Aquifer is a thick series of limestones. Its top ranges
from approximately 100 feet above sea level in Jackson County to
1,600 feet below sea level in southeastern Escambia County. Well
yields from the Floridan average between 500 and 1,000 gallons per
minute (gpm) and range from a high of about 5,000 gpm in the Tallahassee
area to fewer than 100 gpm in Gadsden County and in some coastal
areas. For the most part, the Floridan yields water of excellent
quality that requires little treatment. In Escambia and parts of
Santa Rosa counties, the water from the Floridan is saline and potable
supplies are obtained from the Sand and Gravel Aquifer.
The process through which ground water is replenished is very important.
Ground water replenishment varies from rainfall seeping very slowly through overlying sediments to a more direct recharge process where sediments of the aquifer lie at or near the land's surface
and rainfall can move directly into the aquifer. Unfortunately, areas
such as these are particularly vulnerable to pollutants from various
land uses and land practices that occur on the surface.
Northwest Florida has some of the
largest rivers in the state as well as a number of important streams,
lakes, springs and estuaries.
In terms of annual discharge (volume of flow), the area has three
of the five largest rivers in the state: the Apalachicola, Choctawhatchee
and Escambia. The Apalachicola, the largest derives most of its
flow from the extensive basins of the Flint and Chattahoochee
rivers in Georgia, which converge at Lake Seminole. Many of the District's
major rivers originate in Alabama and Georgia and interstate
management relating to these rivers is an increasingly important
Most of the rivers within northwest Florida are in their natural
state and have few structures to alter their floodplains and channels
or control their flow rates. However, those rivers originating in
neighboring states are likely to have such structures. Rainfall,
stormwater runoff and ground water contribute to the discharge into
rivers and streams and primarily determine variations in flow.
Flooding periodically occurs along major rivers in the region, although
damages are held to a minimum because of the relatively sparse development
within the floodplains of these rivers. District land acquisitions
that target major river and stream corridors help reduce flood damage
since these lands must remain in their natural state once they are
purchased for water quality protection and for preservation purposes.
Urban and low-lying coastal areas are where major flood damage is likely
Within the northwest region are several first magnitude springs and
second magnitude springs, most of which are popular recreation
spots. The first magnitude springs include the Gainer Springs group, Blue Springs, Wakulla Springs, St. Marks Rise and the Spring Creek group. There are numerous lakes such as Lake Jackson,
which is known for its bass fishing.
The only location in the region where surface water is currently
used as a source of public supply are Panama City (Deer Point Lake Reservoir).
Future Water Needs
Although an adequate supply
of water is available now for most of northwest Florida, there
are a few existing or anticipated water
supply problems. These needs are being addressed through the
development of alternative water supplies, creation of regional wellfields
and supply systems, special permitting requirements and long-range
Areas within the District of particular concern are designated
as Water Resource Caution Areas. For an area to be so designated,
it must be experiencing or anticipated to experience significant
or widespread reductions in water levels, saltwater intrusion or
other degradation within the next 20 years. There are two such areas
now. One is the coastal area of Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties
where extensive development and significant withdrawals of ground
water have occurred and the other is the upper Telogia Creek drainage
basin in Gadsden County where surface water is used for agricultural
activities. Establishing minimum flows and levels for both ground
water and surface water systems will be essential for the effective
future management of these resources. Concerns and issues relating
to river systems that are shared with neighboring states as well
as the transfer of water from one region to another will be in the
forefront for years to come. The key to successful water management
in the future is careful planning so that the area’s fragile
ecosystems can continue to be protected.