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Protecting Florida's Groundwater Supply

Florida's aquifer - the source of drinking water and water flowing from its springs - is vulverable to overuse, pollution and drought. Protecting the aquifer is one of DEP's highest priorities. Learn about efforts in the Tampa Bay region to diversify water resources.

Protecting Florida's Water Supply

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Learn about Florida-Friendly Landscaping Techniques

Fertilizers and pesticides used on residential and commercial landscapes are harming Florida's waterways. Find out how you can reduce your impact in your front and back yards.

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Learn About Your Watershed

Manatee River Watershed

  • Overview
  • Restoration News
  • Watershed Maps
  • Photos & Graphics
  • Contacts/Resources
Image of Sun sets on Manatee River in Bradenton.
Sun sets on Manatee River in Bradenton. Bac Clin

Watershed Stats

Size of Basin: 360 square miles

Counties: Located almost entirely in the northern and western parts of Manatee County, with small portions extending into northern Sarasota County and southeastern Hillsborough County

Major Towns:
Bradenton, Palmetto, Parrish, and Duette

Major Water Features:
Manatee River, Braden River, Gamble Creek, Gilley Creek, Peacock Branch, North Fork, East Fork, Webb Branch, Little Fort Crawford Creek, Fort Crawford Creek, Fisher Branch, Little Deep Branch, Corbit Branch, Craig Branch, Poley Branch, Boggy Creek., Sand Branch, Rye Branch, Goddard Creek, Mill Creek, Gates Creek, Braden River, Wares Creek, Ward Lake (Bill Evers Reservoir), and Lake Manatee Reservoir


Image of A winding, narrow stretch of the upper Manatee River.
A winding, narrow stretch of the upper Manatee River. Bac Clin

The headwaters of the Manatee River form in marshes in the northeastern corner of Manatee County near Four Corners and flow 45 miles in a westerly direction to southern Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The area consists mainly of coastal lowlands, hardwood swamps, marshes, and mesic flatwoods. Lake Manatee Reservoir, which lies 24 miles upstream from Tampa Bay, is a 2,000-acre man-made lake, completed in 1967.

From the reservoir's dam downstream to the confluence with Mill Creek, the river is tidally influenced, and its course is relatively narrow and meandering. Broken up by emergent salt marshes and mangrove islands, it widens bayward of Mill Creek and becomes braided. Downstream, there are several small bayous and dredged canals. Ward Lake (Bill Evers Reservoir), which was built in the late 1930s and enlarged in 1985, covers 2,400 acres. Small ponds and isolated or semi-isolated wetlands are common.

The Manatee River watershed reflects a wide variety of land uses and conversions of natural lands, principally as a result of urban, suburban, commercial, industrial, and agricultural development. As of 1995, agriculture was the predominant land use in Manatee County and in the watershed, comprising about 40 percent of the land area. About one-third of the land area is cropland and pastureland, with tree crops (mainly citrus) occupying about 6 percent. Urban and built-up lands comprise nearly 14 percent of the total area, rangeland about 14 percent, upland forests about 11 percent, and wetlands about 13 percent. Most of the urban and built-up lands lie in the westernmost portions of the watershed, in the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto, and in adjacent unincorporated areas. Protected areas include Lake Manatee State Park, Duette Park, Upper Manatee River Florida State Canoe Trail, and Rye Wilderness Park.

Human Impacts

Past development practices have altered many of the watershed 's historical natural systems such as forested uplands and wetlands, creating the current mixture of urban, agricultural, and mining areas and intact biological communities. This pattern of land conversions and accompanying infrastructure (including roads and utilities) will continue to shape conditions in the remaining natural systems.

Water quality problems and issues in the watershed include excessive nutrient loading to Ward Lake (Bill Evers Reservoir); elevated concentrations of dissolved copper in Lake Manatee and Ward Lake; elevated levels of mercury, lead, and zinc in a number of waterbodies; and concern about the ecological impacts of organic pesticides, which are widely used in the watershed.

In recognition of these impacts, DEP, the SWFWMD, and local governmental, scientific, educational, and citizen organizations are working to develop strategies for protecting and restoring water quality in the Manatee River watershed.

Interesting Facts:

  • Lake Manatee Reservoir is the principal water supply for Manatee County, and Ward Lake (Bill Evers Reservoir) provides most of the water for the city of Bradenton.
  • The Upper Manatee River Canoe Trail is designated as part of Florida's Statewide System of Greenways and Trails.
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