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Withlacoochee River flow at core of Corps' study

The Army Corps of Engineers project on the Withlacoochee River uses public input and data to determine what's ailing the waterway.

The Army Corps of Engineers will probably hear many opinions about the Withlacoochee River when it meets with the public in Dade City today.

But the view that drew the corps to the meeting is the one held by Hernando County Commissioner Pat Novy and shared by Chester Bradshaw, the Pasco County resident who is one of the area's most visible activists on water issues.

The flow of water in the Withlacoochee was accelerated _ and its volume reduced _ by logging operations in the river decades ago. That, in turn, lowered the water pressure required for recharging the Florida Aaquifer.

Countless alterations in the river's basin _ including road construction, and ditching and draining operations _ meanwhile, have diverted water that once drained into the river, which also has reduced the amount of water in the river.

"That was the essence of this whole request, the problem of it not having enough navigable water," Novy said.

"I personally invited the corps to review the Withlacoochee."

Novy said that the corps agreed to study the river more closely in September, and in December the corps received funding for what is called a watershed reconnaissance study. The first public meeting on the subject was in Brooksville two weeks ago.

Though Novy says she persuaded the corps to study the river, corps representatives will be gathering a variety of views on the state of the river.

"We're trying to get information from the public to see what they think the problem is," said Jacquelyn Griffin, a spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers office in Jacksonville.

But most activists along the length of the river agree generally with Novy and Bradshaw: The flow needs to be slowed.

And the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which will be the corps' sponsoring agency in the study, has shown a new willingness to accommodate that view.

After a decadelong fight, Swiftmud agreed last year to replace the Wysong Dam. The dam was an inflatable bladder structure in Citrus County that the district removed in 1989.

The study, budgeted for $80,000, will be based mostly on public comments and existing records, such as rainfall and flow statistics, Griffin said.

The corps also will conduct a similar study on the Hillsborough River.

The two studies will include some information on both rivers' source, the Green Swamp.

If the preliminary study on the Withlacoochee indicates that the natural flow of the river has been seriously disrupted, the corps may authorize a more complete study.

That, ultimately, could lead to some remedial action: the building of a dam, Griffin said, or maybe the filling in of old ditches.