W - Labor day 02-S5000881HIGH SPRINGS – Labor Day is coming up, but anybody with plans of visiting their favorite river or spring should check with state park authorities first.

Swimming and boating activities may not be allowed in some areas after last week’s major rainstorms in the county, particularly north of the High Springs area.

After last week’s deluge, retention ponds in the area are filled to the brim, or more likely, spilling over. A sinkhole has reportedly opened up on Poe Springs Road. Despite this, officials at O’Leno State Park, just north of High Springs, said the water levels are average for the first time this year.

Terri Newmans, assistant park ranger at O’Leno, called the rushing waters of the Santa Fe River average, even as she trekked through the water-soaked grounds in the still falling rain.

The rain had been pouring in for more than five hours that day, but the river’s water level was at 35.7 feet. The average is 34 feet.

If the water levels fall too low, the park could be closed to swimmers because the water would be considered stagnant, Newmans said. Swimming in stagnant waters can be a risk because dangerous microorganisms can thrive in those conditions. If the water levels rise too high, parks might have to close trails. About two or three weeks ago, O’Leno had to close trails for a few days when the water level reached 39.7 feet, she said.

For comparison, after Tropical Storm Debbie hit in June 2012, the water level was close to 50 feet. Park management closed down River Rise State Preserve.

Rainfall in Aug. 25, 2012 was about 40 feet. The same day in 2013 was listed at about 37 feet, according to Weather Underground, an online weather service, backing up Newman’s claim that the river is at an average level for this time of year.  

The National Weather Service does not expect that to last, as they have issued a flood warning for the Santa Fe River this week. North of High Springs, the river could approach a flood stage by Tuesday.

The complexity and interconnectedness of the river systems could play a role in any potential flooding.

Between 4 and 8 inches of rain fell in the upper reaches of the Alapaha and Withlacoochee rivers in the last seven days, causing renewed minor flooding on the Withlacoochee River in Valdosta. The Alapaha and Withlacoochee rivers are major tributaries of the Suwannee River, accounting for almost 40 percent of the Suwannee’s watershed.

The National Weather Service warned that swimming and diving on the rivers and springs over the Labor Day weekend might have to be curtailed, due to the rising water levels.

While the levels at O’Leno might be average for this time of year, some people might have to reschedule their plans for the holiday. Park alerts are issued daily, and information about forecasts, rainfall and current river readings are available online at www.mysuwanneeriver.com or at 386-362-6626 or 800-604-2272.

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