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Know your watershed

Your watershed is the land area that catches and contributes water to a water body. Water resources within a watershed are affected by what happens on the land within that watershed. Gainesville's area reaches into multiple watersheds, including the Oklawaha River and the Santa Fe River. Find out about Madera's watershed.

Anything on the land can eventually impact the water resources. In Florida, surface water and ground water are connected through a variety of ways because of the karst landscape.

What is a karst landscape?
Derived from the Slovenian kars, meaning rock, karst landscapes are underlain by limestone that is easily dissolved by carbonic acid (water and CO2).

Floridan Aquifer, "Florida's rain barrel"

Aquifers are underground rock and cave systems that hold water. The Floridan Aquifer is one of the most productive aquifers in the world and our main source of drinking water. It reaches across southern Alabama, southeastern Georgia, southern South Carolina and all of Florida and is covered in varying thicknesses of sand, clay, and limestone.

Water in the aquifer is replaced by rainfall that soaks into the ground, a process known as recharge, but this does not occur everywhere. Areas of high recharge include the well-drained sand ridges of central and west-central Florida.

Maintaining natural areas is critical for maintaining water supplies. The sand surface of central Florida is porous, making it easy for water to flow through it and recharge the aquifer. Water cannot soak through the pavement that comes with intense development.


Cypress knee near a sinkhole at river rise state preserve. UF/IFAS Photo: Thomas Wright.Sinkholes, "An aquifer phenomenon"

Sinkholes are depressions in the surface land when the rainwater dissolves the underlying limestone or when the roof of an underlying cavern collapses. Sinkholes connect the surface water to groundwater.

How sinkholes form

Types of sinkholes

While sinkholes are common in portions of Florida, Madera is located in an area where they are not likely to develop. Encouraging water to remain on the property and soak into the ground through Madera's many wetlands and stormwater retention ponds also helps to keep the water table at its natural levels and prevent sinkhole formation.


Swimmers at Fanning Springs. Photo by Tara Piasio.Springs, "windows to the aquifer"

There are over 200 springs in Florida, most emerging from cavities in the porous limestone of the aquifer to become part of the water system in streams, lakes, and rivers. Most Florida springs are found on the northern half of the state and flow from the aquifer.

10 Things Everyone Should Know About Florida Springs




UF/IFAS scientists help sustain Florida's natural resources through a statewide volunteer program called Florida Lakewatch. Photo by Andrea L. BillupsLakes

Florida has thousands of lakes, large and small. Most of them were formed in same manner as sinkholes. Ground water dissolved the underlying limestone, forming underwater cavities. When the roof of the cavities collapsed and formed a depression, they were filled with groundwater and rainwater. In addition to natural lakes, Florida has many man-made lakes used for irrigation, mining, and aquaculture. Some lakes and ponds are designed to manage stormwater runoff from developed areas.




Crystal River, Florida. UF/IFAS Photo: Eric ZamoraRivers

The most common type of river in the karst region of north-central Florida are spring-fed rivers, where the limestone is close to the surface.




As an integral part of the Florida landscape, wetlands perform a major role in protecting surface and groundwater. Photo by Milt PutnamWetlands

These are areas of land periodically covered by water and have many names, including swamps, marshes, and bogs to name a few. There is particular concern for the preservation of these areas because they perform many valuable functions for the state's ecosystem. Wetlands provided habitat for fish and wildlife, improve water quality by trapping nitrogen, phosphorous, and other substances, intercept and slow down run-off, and protect shorelines from erosion and upland areas from floods.




How is it all connected?

The connection between groundwater and surface water means that anything found in the surface water can find its way into the groundwater.

Water pollution occurs when a body of water is contaminated with the addition of materials and chemicals not intended for use. Because water plays a major role in Florida's diverse habitats and wildlife populations, pollution impacts the environment, human health, and the availability of clean water resources.

For more information on preventing water pollution, read our water quality page.



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Copyright © 2004 UF/IFAS Extension and Mark Hostetler
Content written by Elizabeth Swiman and Mark Hostetler
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611