Navigation was one of the earliest uses of our Southeastern rivers. Indians and early settlers used the rivers for transportation and commerce. Keeping our rivers clear for navigation was one of the first missions for the Corps of Engineers. Today's commercial barge lines still use rivers to move significant quantities of bulk materials by barge.
The Apalachicola and lower Alabama rivers are two rivers which require flow to assure adequate depths. A minimum flow is needed which will assure useable depths. In dryer months water is taken from reservoirs to augment natural river flow. This can often result in the decline in reservoir levels. Reservoirs were built for this intended purpose so a falling reservoir is just a sign of the reservoir doing its job.
On the Apalachicola River, a major factor influencing reservoir regulation was the increasing flow requirements to maintain the authorized 9.0-foot navigation depth on the Apalachicola River. At the time the ACF system of projects was constructed, a discharge from Jim Woodruff Dam of 9,300 cfs together with dredging provided a 9.0-foot deep navigation channel in the Apalachicola River. A discharge of 20,600 cfs from Jim Woodruff Dam is required for a 9.0-foot channel without dredging. The increasing flow requirements to achieve suitable navigation channel depth in the Apalachicola River are attributable to (1) navigation channel degradation and (2) escalating flow diversion through Chipola Cutoff. . In response to those changing conditions, it became necessary to periodically schedule the release of increased flows from Jim Woodruff Dam for periods of a few days to as long as two weeks to accommodate commercial river traffic. Those periods were known as navigation windows.
Increasing flow requirements plus the loss of water quality certification from the state of Florida, which prevents the Corps from dredging the Apalachicola River, effectively closed commercial navigation on the Apalachicola River. Those conditions limit navigation to periodic, special commercial shipments.
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