Deflecting claims that it helped flood neighborhoods along the Withlacoochee River, the Southwest Florida Water Management District in the last two weeks removed about 150 feet of long-standing wire fencing under the U.S. 98 bridge in Pasco County.
Some people claimed that blockages had diverted floodwaters away from the Hillsborough River into the Withlacoochee, which went out of its banks beginning in December and left behind millions of dollars' worth of damage in Citrus and surrounding counties.
The bridge crosses a flow path for water leaving the headwaters of both rivers, the Green Swamp Basin east of Dade City. The fence kept out cattle and people, Swiftmud engineer Bruce Wirth said.
A Swiftmud study concluded last month that removal of the obstructions would have had a minimal effect on the flooding: a reduction in water levels of less than 2 inches entering the Withlacoochee. Flood levels at Arrowhead, for example, stood at 10 feet for many weeks before receding recently.
"The fact is they had . . . above normal flows," Wirth said several weeks ago. "We don't believe it had anything to do with the flooding. But every little thing is important. We think it is important enough we're going to cut the fence down."
The agency agreed to study both the U.S. 98 and State Road 54 bridges near the Green Swamp in response to claims from Hernando County Commissioner Pat Novy and environmental activist Chester Bradshaw. Bradshaw said the natural flow of water leaving the swamp goes into the Hillsborough River and eventually into the Tampa Bypass Canal.
Bradshaw, a vocal Swiftmud critic, could not be reached for comment.
The district also looked into complaints of obstructions at the State Road 54 bridge. The study, released late last month, concluded that removing material there would not have affected flooding.