The Braden River watershed drains an 83-square mile area in west-central Florida and is the largest tributary to the Manatee River. The hydrology of the Braden River was altered in 1936 when the city of Bradenton created Ward Lake, a reservoir with an 838-foot broad-crested weir 6 miles upstream from the mouth. In 1985 the reservoir, which is the sole source of drinking water for the city of Bradenton, was expanded and supplies an annual average of 5.7 million gallons of water per day. The Braden River can be hydrologically divided into three distinct sections that include an 8.6-mile reach of naturally incised, free-flowing channel; a 6.4-mile reach of impounded river created by the Ward Lake reservoir and weir; and a 6-mile reach of tidal estuary. Ten first-order and two second-order tributaries that flow into the Braden River were examined in this report.
The Braden River watershed is dominated by low topographic relief. The two physiographic zones that contain the Braden River watershed, the Gulf Coast Lowlands and De Soto Plain, are both poorly drained and have numerous depressional features. The climate is subtropical with an annual average rainfall of 56 inches, annual average temperatures of 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and estimated annual lake evaporation of 52 inches. The soil series in the watershed are predominantly Myakka-Cassia and the EauGallie-Floridana; these series are characterized as nearly level and poorly drained soils. Land use within the watershed is the fastest changing characteristic that affects the hydrology of the system. The western half of the watershed is typically urban and includes parts of the city of Bradenton. Land use in the eastern half of the watershed is predominantly agricultural, but the explosive population growth of the area is driving the development of medium to high-density residential communities.
The three major aquifers underlying the Braden River watershed are the surficial, intermediate, and Floridan aquifer systems. The surficial aquifer generally is underlain in places by a clay layer that enhances the ground-water flow of the surficial aquifer to surface-water bodies. The intermediate aquifer system has discontinuous water-bearing units, but retards ground-water movement between the surficial and Floridan aquifer system. The Floridan aquifer system consists of the Upper and Lower Floridan aquifers separated by a middle confining unit. The Upper Floridan aquifer is the primary source for ground-water withdrawals in the watershed and has, at times, heads 20 feet higher than land-surface elevation.
Discharge over the Ward Lake weir into the tidal estuary was measured using volumetric and standard discharge measurement techniques. Annual mean flow for water years 1993 and 1994 were 59.7 and 57.3 cubic feet per second, respectively. Weir coefficients, calculated from discharge measurements, ranged from 0.023 to 2.99, depending on the head of water over the weir, and the method of determining length of flow on the weir. Weir coefficients calculated from the theoretical rating ranged from 0.032 to 3.11. No significant seepage was found around the ends of the weir, and no leakage was detected through the weir.