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St. Andrew Bay Watershed

  • Overview
  • Restoration News
  • Watershed Maps
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Image of The pier and beach at St. Andrews State Park.
The pier and beach at St. Andrews State Park.

Watershed Stats

Size of Basin: 3,260 square miles

Major Cities and Towns: Graceville, Bonifay, Callaway, Chipley, Cedar Grove, Cinco Bayou, Caryville, De Funiak Springs, Destin, Ebro, Esto, Freeport, Ponce De Leon, Freeport, Laguna Beach, Lynn Haven, Lake Lorraine, Mexico Beach, Miramar Beach, Niceville, Ocean City, Nona, Panama City, Parker, Port St. Joe, Shalimar, Vernon, Valparaiso, Wausau, Westville, and Wright

Counties: Most of the watershed lies within Holmes, Washington, Walton, and Bay Counties, and smaller areas lie within Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, and Okaloosa Counties

Major Water Features: Sand Hill Lakes, Lake Powell, and Deer Point Lake Reservoir
Springs: Burn-Out, Cypress, Beckton, Morrison, and Ponce de Leon Springs

Rivers: Choctawhatchee River, Pea, Mitchell, and Little Choctawhatchee Rivers

Creeks: Peach, Holmes, Wrights, Bruce, Pine Log, Alaqua, Rocky, Black, Chickenhouse Branch, Depot, Econfina, Turkey, Cedar, and Bear Creeks

Bays: Choctawhatchee, St. Joseph, St. Andrew, and East, West, and North Bays

Swamps: Buzzard Roost, Dismal, Titi, and Devils Swamps


Image of The spring-fed Econfina Creek runs steep and narrow below forested canopies to Deer Point Lake Reservoir and serves as Bay County’s primary source of drinking water.
The spring-fed Econfina Creek runs steep and narrow below forested canopies to Deer Point Lake Reservoir and serves as Bay County’s primary source of drinking water.

The St. Andrew Bay watershed covers about 750,000 acres in Walton, Washington, Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, and Bay Counties, with 61 percent in Bay County alone. It is the only major watershed in the Florida Panhandle that lies entirely in Florida. The watershed includes Deer Point Lake Reservoir, St. Joseph Bay, and the interconnected St. Andrew, East, West, and North Bays. With a population of over 148,000, Bay County places the greatest demand on the watershed's resources.

St. Andrew proper and North, West, and East Bays collectively make up St. Andrew Bay, which is unique in that no large river systems drain into the estuary or nearby offshore waters. This factor also contributes to its overall low turbidity, high water quality, high salinity, and clean sediment. The largest stream in the watershed, Econfina Creek, is fed by a number of springs and empties into the Deer Point Reservoir. The creek provides the major freshwater inflow into the estuary, along with a number of smaller creeks. Other major creeks that enter Deer Point Reservoir are Cedar Creek and Bear Creek. East Pass and West Pass provide surface water connections with the Gulf at each end of Shell Island.

North of the Deer Point Lake Reservoir, the Sand Hill Lakes area provides important natural and recreational resources, and is the primary recharge area for the Floridan aquifer springs that discharge into Econfina Creek. The karst ponds and lakes in this area also serve as unique habitats that support many rare and protected plant species.

The seagrass communities in St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays are among the most extensive and diverse of any in the Florida Panhandle.

Image of Gainer Spring 2 is one of the major springs in a group that contributes to the flow of Econfina Creek.
Gainer Spring 2 is one of the major springs in a group that contributes to the flow of Econfina Creek.

The Deer Point Lake Reservoir, an artificial lake, is the primary source of drinking water for Bay County. It currently supplies an average of 45 million gallons per day of water for public and industrial water uses in the county. The reservoir has become a critically important water supply for Bay County, because of inadequate ground water resources in the more developed, coastal portions of the county. The reservoir was formed in 1961 by impounding the upper portion of North Bay. Econfina Creek is the reservoir's primary tributary.

Wetlands occur throughout the St. Andrew Bay watershed. Salt marshes and inland forested wetlands are especially prominent in several areas, including the West Bay watershed, Panther Swamp, and the southern and southeastern portion of St. Joseph Bay.

The seagrass communities in St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays are among the most extensive and diverse of any in the Florida Panhandle. The productivity of seagrass beds, along with salt marshes, is particularly important in St. Joseph Bay, as it lacks significant external sources of energy. Several areas in the St. Andrew Bay estuarine system and St. Joseph Bay are classified as shellfish-harvesting areas and support commercial oyster, clam, and recreational bay scallop fisheries. Shrimp, blue crabs, horseshoe crabs, and various species of finfish are also commercially and recreationally harvested.

Human Impacts

About 59 bayous in the St. Andrew Bay system are affected by stormwater runoff and sedimentation. For example, Watson Bayou was impacted by a sawmill beginning in 1835, a paper mill beginning in 1931, and fuel storage, wastewater treatment plants, boat construction, commercial fishing, runoff, and habitat loss due to residential development. Other bayous, such as Massalina Bayou, Martin Lake, and Fred Bayou, have been similarly affected.

St. Andrew Bay proper, which receives water from the other bays in the system, is connected directly to the Gulf of Mexico. It also receives almost all the stormwater runoff and discharges from industry and public water treatment facilities. Urban development and industrial development occur along most of the shoreline and bayous of the bay system. Fresh water comes from the creeks entering the many bayous. However, most of these creeks serve as stormwater conduits from developed areas.

A comparison of 1992 aerial photography with historical aerial photography indicates that overall seagrass coverage in St. Andrew proper and West, North, and East Bays appears to have declined by approximately 17 percent between 1953 and 1992. Two likely causes of this decline are increasing shoreline development and stormwater runoff. Reduced freshwater inflow to the St. Andrew Bay estuarine system, because of increased withdrawal from the Deer Point Reservoir to meet the drinking water and industrial water needs of Bay County, further affect estuarine conditions in North Bay.

Stormwater runoff and ongoing urban development are the major threats to water quality in the bay.

Studies of sediment quality in the St. Andrew Bay estuarine system during the late 1980s and early 1990s revealed that sediments in the open bay were mostly free of chemical contaminants. However, urban stormwater runoff, municipal and industrial point source discharges, historical oil spills, marine repair operations, and pollution associated with commercial vessels and recreational boats do affect sediment and water quality in the bayous and bay.

Intensive land use can be found in and around the Panama City metropolitan area, with additional concentrations in and around Tyndall Air Force Base, Mexico Beach, and Port St. Joe. Considerable development is also ongoing at the urban-rural fringe.

In recognition of these impacts, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD), and local governmental, scientific, educational, and citizen organizations are working to develop strategies for protecting and restoring water quality and quantity in the St. Andrew Bay watershed.

Interesting Facts:

  • "Econfina" is a Native American, Muskogee term for natural bridge.
  • Two state aquatic preserves are located in the watershed: the 73,000-acre St. Joseph Bay and the 25,000-acre St. Andrew State Recreation Area.
  • In 1999, Bay County built an advanced wastewater treatment plant that eliminated wastewater discharge and uses reclaimed water for upland irrigation.
  • Studies comparing aerial photographs show a 17 percent loss of seagrass coverage since 1953 in St. Andrew, West, North, and East Bays.
  • The largest landowner in the watershed is the St. Joe Company. The majority of its land has traditionally been used to grow trees as a source of pulpwood for the production of paper products. Following a recent reorganization of the company, its focus has changed to large-scale residential, commercial, resort, and related development.

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