Ocala opens a park that recharges Florida’s aquifer system

Aerial view of the Ocala Wetland Recharge Park
The City of Ocala recently opened the Ocala Wetland Recharge Park, providing recreational opportunities and water quality improvements.

The newest park within the City of Ocala offers visitors walking trails and scenic boardwalks with water views; but what sets this park apart from any other within the city limits and the state? The Ocala Wetland Recharge Park (OWRP) has the ability to recharge Florida’s aquifer system, increasing water flow to nearby Silver Springs.

The OWRP was created out of an underutilized nine-hole golf course less than six miles from Silver Springs. Featuring 35 acres of infiltration wetlands divided into three cells, the park currently receives just over 3 million gallons a day (mgd) of reclaimed water and stormwater from city facilities. The majority of the water will be provided from the city’s two advanced wastewater treatment facilities. Using existing infrastructure from a decommissioned wastewater treatment plant, stormwater is collected, filtered to remove debris and pumped to the wetland recharge park. The project will also reduce an estimated 29,000 pounds per year of total nitrogen and 30,500 pounds per year of total phosphorus from source waters and will help to abate flooding.

“The treated water flows into the upper Floridan aquifer,” says Rachel Slocumb, water resources conservation coordinator, city of Ocala. “The Upper Floridan feeds Silver Springs, so we have a direct impact on Silver Springs.”

The St. Johns River Water Management District awarded $2.1 million toward the project from its 2018 cost-share funding program, with an additional $2.1 million coming from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection springs funding and a city contribution of $4.2 million. This project will result in enhanced aquifer recharge to help Silver Springs by increasing water flow by approximately 2.5 mgd, improving water quality by placing wetland plants to remove nutrients and providing open space for passive public recreation, such as birdwatching and hiking.

“The St. Johns River Water Management District contributed cost-share funding toward this project, which supports the District’s core missions, and provides many benefits for the city, nearby Silver Springs and for visitors who have a new destination to enjoy the area’s natural beauty,” says St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “These kinds of collaborative projects are a win-win. We are grateful for the partnerships that are making such beneficial projects become reality in our communities as we work for the betterment of Florida’s water resources and protection of its precious springs.”

The park is currently open to the public and operates seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. There are two and a half miles of trails,1,500 feet of boardwalk to explore and 20 educational kiosks. Learn more at ocalafl.org.

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