Holiday Ranch
Breeder of South Poll Grass Cattle

Holmes Creek, a real jewel

Although I am a relative newcomer to Washington County, Florida, I sensed Holmes Creek was special.  My research on Holmes Creek has confirmed my belief Holmes Creek is a fragile, diverse ecological anomaly found no place else on earth. 

 The Choctawhatchee River/Holmes Creek Basin originates in Alabama and flows into the Choctawhatchee Bay, draining roughly 3,300 square miles in northwest Florida.  It is the second largest flood plain in Florida.  Due to the river corridor’s undeveloped nature, it provides habitat for a variety of native wildlife, including several endangered plant and animal species.[1] Holmes Creek is the largest Florida tributary of the Choctawhatchee River and Bay system.  The Holmes Creek watershed covers approximately 85,600 acres[2] and is home to unique biological systems.  These systems function in part as flood control, water storage and filtering pollutants.

 This region provides significant public use and recreation resources.  Holmes Creek canoe trail is officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide System of Greenways and Trails.  This trail flows through a variety of Panhandle habitats.  The upper and lower portions pass high sandy banks while the majority of the trail is through low-lying swamplands.  Crystal clear springs, including Cypress Springs, which flows at 89 million gallons per day and Becton Springs, which flows at 40 million gallons per day, feed the creek.[3]

 Holmes Creek is distinctive from streams more common in the Panhandle, in that it receives discharges from a series of Floridan Aquifer springs and takes on characteristics of a karst stream. 

In 2000 and 2001 William Shirling mapped 51 small springs that were previously unknown to local water management district officials and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  He also introduced researchers and scientists to new areas where they discovered three endemic snails, two imperiled fish species and along the upper portion of the creek, a spring and wetland system that was new to science and not described in scientific literature.[4]  Fred Thompson, Florida Museum of Natural History, has been credited with documenting a number of freshwater mollusks in Holmes Creek, several which are found no place else in the world but in this creek.   Many species in this particular family are important ecological barometers of water quality because they are extremely sensitive to temperature, oxygen levels, sediments and unnatural contaminants.[5]  One negative environmental event occurring to this creek could cause their extinction.

Holmes Creek has significance for our region’s biodiversity.  It provides wildlife habitat and supports distinctive littoral vegetation communities and a number of rare plants.  Livingston et al. found the creek to have the most diverse fish habitats and highest species richness in the Choctawhatchee River basin.[6]  Theodore Hoenh identified Holmes Creek as supporting several species or rare or imperiled fish, second only to the Escambia River Basin.[7]  Recent research by Hightower et al. notes the importance of spring discharge and water quality in Holmes Creek for critical Gulf sturgeon (endangered species per the Federal EPA) habitat downstream of the confluence of the creek and the Choctawhatchee River.[8]

 These springs and streams are beginning to show signs of illness due to development and urban sprawl.  Stormwater runoff, a relatively new all-encompassing term, which is applied to any hydrophilic or hydrophobic chemical compound that can make its way into area waters, is the newest threat as parking lots, manicured environments and people are drawn to springs[9] and creeks. The four-laning of State Road 79 will undoubtedly contribute to further contamination of this sensitive ecological system.  I have personally met with the highway design engineers and learned that the overflow from their retaining ponds will be directed into waterways that flow directly into Holmes Creek.  Additionally, the highway will come within short proximity to Hightower Spring, the home of endemic and rare species that cannot tolerate the type of run-off created by highway pollution.

 I was greatly disturbed to learn Holmes Creek is reported polluted and receives wastewater effluent from several local municipalities[10].  We should be extremely cautious about licensing another wastewater treatment facility in the Holmes Creek watershed, as will be requested by Skywatch.

 Residential and commercial development in the vicinity of the creek and in the recharge area has the potential to result in non point source pollution of the creek and adverse effects on groundwater recharge.[11]  The land within the Skywatch subdivision is considered highly erodible land by the local National Resource Conservation Service and any disturbance of the soil creates erosion, causing silt to flow towards the creek and can fill streambeds and create stagnant pools.  The silt has the potential to smother rare snails, as they have no way to escape the change in their environment, thereby causing their extinction.  Silt can also smother the plant life in the creek and ruin spawning beds for rare and endangered fish.  Negative environmental events that occur on the creek will affect the health of the creek and wildlife downstream for years to come and possibly cause irreparable harm.


[1] Florida Forever Land Acquisition Project

[2] Choctawhatchee River and Bay System Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan, 2002 update.  Northwest Florida Water Management District; Thorpe, Sultana and Stafford

[3] www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/guide/regions/panhandlewest/trails/holmes.htm

[4] www.floridasprings.org/protection/success/onevoice/

[5] University of Florida News – UF Scientist Finds Eight New Snails that May Give Water Quality Clues

[6] Choctawhatchee River and Bay System Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan, 2002 update

Northwest Florida Water Management District; Thorpe, Sultana and Stafford

[7] Rare and Imperiled Fish Species of Florida A Watershed Perspective; Theodore Hoehn, 1998

Office of Environmental Services, FL Fish and Fresh Water Fish Commission

[8] Choctawhatchee River and Bay System Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan, 2002 update

Northwest Florida Water Management District; Thorpe, Sultana and Stafford

[9] Nativefish.org; Robert A. Rice; 6/2/2000

[10] Total Maximum Daily Load for Fecal Coliform in Choctawhatchee Bay, U.S. EPA Atlanta, GA,March 2006, James D. Giattina, Water Management Division

[11] Choctawhatchee River and Bay System Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan, 2002 update

Northwest Florida Water Management District; Thorpe, Sultana and Stafford

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