** Be advised that areas around your property often have environmental restrictions and protections. Failure to heed the guidance provided below may result in substantial fines, penalties and remediation costs to you! Failure to be aware of and follow the regulations put in place to protect these preserved areas will not excuse violations.
Preserved Areas in Riverwood
What is a Preserve – Preserves are identified areas of Riverwood established by the governing authorities: Charlotte County, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) in conjunction with the original developers to ensure conservation of lands that protect ecosystems that provide clean water to Florida residents and protect native species. These areas are maintained by the RCDD and the RCA to comply with permits that limit the amount of invasive vegetation, and the ways in which specially licensed contractors may work in those areas. Some of these areas are set aside for native species to be protected, i.e. gopher tortoises, eagle nesting, scrub jays. The rules can be confusing because of the number of agencies that regulate and enforce the laws. This is further complicated by the various designations of areas of Riverwood. Preserves around your home may not be cleared or trimmed to maintain or provide a ‘view’ from your home.
Where are Preserves in Riverwood – Preserves generally appear like wilder un-landscaped areas of our community, they differ from common areas in that they are not planted to be eye-catching but they do provide habitat for wildlife and areas for surface water to be filtered. This juxtaposition of wild and landscaped areas are a part of the unique beauty of our community. The following links will reveal where Preserves are around your yard and in all of Riverwood. The legend on each map will help you to see where specific animal preserves are located.
1. Riverwood (Excluding Sawgrass) Map
2. Sawgrass Map
To get further assistance in finding exactly where your property lines are you may consult your survey, boundary markers, or visit the RCA or CDD office.
How you can help. Please notify your landscaper that they must not deposit yard waste in the Preserves as that material can contain seeds or live remnants that can take root and spread throughout the preserve. Similarly, if you are doing your own gardening and clean up, leave the plant material and old plant containers for the Waste Management pick-ups. You may use an identified waste can for plant material on your regularly scheduled pick-up day. Initially, after maintenance and removal of invasive species Preserves may appear unsightly. These areas are generally left for 12 to 24 months after clearing to see what native vegetation migrates into the areas and then they are assessed for planting by licensed personnel if indicated. * Refrain from transplanting houseplants or overgrown lanai plantings into any property that is not yours.
In General – No plants, trees, mangroves, vines, weeds or anything at all may be touched on property you do not own. Doing so may result in substantial fines, costs to replace damaged trees and plants, and to re-grade disturbed areas. In addition, the expense for monitoring reports by licensed environmental restoration inspectors and contractors may be assigned to you.
Who can help if I see a problem? – If vegetation from a Preserve is growing into your yard, the mangroves need trimming, or you would like to see some native plants flowering in the Preserve near your home you may request work using the Riverwood Environmental Area Work Order form at this link.
The Care and Purpose of Riverwood’s Ponds
Forty-eight ponds add beauty to Riverwood’s campus, and these small bodies of water work hard, too! The ponds around us were specifically designed and built to mimic the role of natural ponds in Florida. These ‘stormwater ponds’ work to manage the impact we make on the fragile ecosystem that remains after our homes, roads, activity center, and various vehicles arrived. They are used to:
§ Protect wetlands that serve as buffers against pollution and flooding in the Myakka River,
§ Protect ground and surface water quality by filtering out chemicals, metals, oils, litter and organic matter that come from our lawns and stormwater washing our streets,
§ Collect stormwater and provide a conveyance route out of the development preventing flooding following our frequent rainstorms,
§ Recharge the water supply through gradual infiltration into the aquifer,
§ Provide an aesthetically attractive environment,
§ Provide a water storage reservoir for wildlife and irrigation during dry periods,
§ Provide fishing and wildlife observation opportunities for residents,
§ Enhance wildlife habitat lost to our development.
Riverwood’s ponds are permitted by and subject to regular periodic inspection by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). The RCDD and the RCA are required to perform regular maintenance of the ponds that includes:
§ Regular rRemoval of invasive and nuisance plants from ponds and banks,
§ Regular mMaintenance of the structures that regulate the flow of water into the ponds from the street, between the ponds and ultimately to the Myakka River,
§ Times Establishing of mowing and fertilizer free zones and limiting times of mowing around the ponds,
§ The continual plantingMaintenance and sometimes replacement of plants within the littoral areas (shallow shelves on the pond bed designed as part of the construction) of the ponds.
What hinders the maintenance of plants in the littoral (shallow shelves) areas of Riverwood’s ponds?
§ Grass carp – uproot and consume young plants, these fish are non-native to Florida but in the past are invadingwere introduced in many waterways to help control algae growth and can grow quite large.
§ Tilapia - make large basin-like nests for their eggs by sweeping areas clear of plants and sand, these fish are also a non-native, invasive species. Currently, the RCDD has given permission to a licensed fisherman for netting and removal for tilapia.
§ Armored Catfish – although their diet consists of algae sucked off underwater plants and fish eggs, they may uproot plant life to burrow into banks to lay eggs. This fish is also non-native and invasive in Florida. There are hundreds of species of armored catfish, h and they are generally nocturnal, andnocturnal and can live outside of water for up to a day if they have enough oxygen stored inside of them.
What else hinders the aquatic plants in our ponds?
Residents! For any number of reasons, some residents dislike plant life in the ponds; plants are too tall and hinder a view, plants have seasons in which they die off or seed pods get brown and unattractive, or simply a preference for a clean uniform appearance… at times residents have taken to pulling, digging and otherwise uprooting plants in ponds when pleas to remove them or plant no more have gone unfulfilled. Thinning of aquatic plants that have become too thick can be done by request and at resident expense. Unauthorized removal of aquatic plants puts our community at risk of fines for Riverwood by SWFWMD. Fines are generally passed on to the homeowners who caused the fine.
In 2021 the RCDD and the RCA are both embarking on a plan to plant littoral areas of the ponds in a new ways:
1. To protect the young plants from unwelcomed fish behavior, new plants will be protected for a period of time by protective net fencing, this will allow the plants to become established;
2. Plants have been chosen that will flower and whose foliage will grow to less than three feet. Two of the plants seen here are pickerelweed and duck potato.
They will be joined by a type of spike rush that remains under three feet tall and can at times grow densely enough to hinder the armored catfish from being able to access the banks for burrowing.
Why do the agencies that oversee stormwater management systems require planted littoral shelves in the ponds?
Plants in the ponds provide the following benefits:
· They oxygenate the water by releasing oxygen into the water column, just like trees and plants release oxygen into the air we breathe,
· They provide protective places for young crustaceans and fish to grow,
· They reduce wave action in the water and hold soil that can help decrease erosion.
· They absorb excess nutrients in the water that promote algae blooms. Algae clouds the water and robs it of oxygen. Both conditions lead to fish and plant death.
What can you expect to see?
The first ponds will be planted in this way in the summer of 2021 as the rainy season gets underway. Over time the plants will fill out and become established. Staff and committee members from the Grounds Committee of the RCA and the Environmental Committee of the RCDD will be watching the progress of this experiment in re-planting our ponds. If you have a bank near your home that you would like to have planted you may contact the RCDD or RCA office to get information on the company that is completing this project for Riverwood.