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Water quantity and quality influence the aquatic and wetland ecosystems in the watershed. Water is a limited resource necessary, not only for public use, but to conserve natural areas and protect wetlands. Fresh water that historically reached the Wild and Scenic River began being diverted at the turn of the last century to provide drinking water to Palm Beach. In the 1950s, the headwaters of the river were drained for agriculture and other urban land uses. Today, even more water is being diverted for human consumption. Over the past 50 years, four river miles of cypress swamp have been replaced by mangroves due to saltwater intrusion resulting from diminished freshwater flow. Wetlands have been intentionally drained and/or filled, or simply degraded through water diversion and a lowered water table. Changes in hydrology have allowed invasive exotic plants to move into areas that were once high quality wetlands. Meanwhile, the environmental quality of the Loxahatchee River has been negatively influenced by pollution entering waterways via point and non-point sources. Some of the waterways in the river system are impaired waters that do not meet their designated uses.
The Loxahatchee River Preservation Initiative (LRPI) is the outgrowth of a watershed management effort that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection spearheaded in 1996. The LRPI was formed in 2000 with the single purpose of seeking out funding assistance for projects that would improve and protect the natural resources within the watershed. Several key projects, critical to preserving the long-term health of the Loxahatchee, have not been implemented due to lack of resources and other regional priorities taking precedence. Urban stormwater improvements and the restoration of other tributaries including the estuarine portion of the river system are emphasized in the Loxahatchee River Preservation Initiative. Urban residents and river users will be the primary beneficiaries of our efforts to improve the water quality of the Loxahatchee.
The Loxahatchee River is the southernmost tributary of the Indian River Lagoon and includes the Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River, the first federally designated Wild and Scenic River in Florida. This historic watershed, over 750 square miles, has been reduced by flood control basins and drainage districts to approximately 277 square miles in southern Martin and northern Palm Beach Counties. The region's population is nearing 100,000, and most of those residents live in the coastal communities of Hobe Sound, Tequesta, Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens and Juno Beach.