Classic Action by Water Managers — A Disheartening Waste of Time and Money
Nothing done, time wasted, make-work, taxpayer money down the drain. But the water managers can point to their “study” and say they are working on the problem. How many times have we seen this? Disheartening is the descriptive adjective. Shameless can be added.
Following is some of what was written in that post:
It seems the St Johns River Water Management District has joined with the University of Florida to study variables which may impact the health of the spring. Of principal concern is the reduced flow and high nitrate concentrations, both much greater than in the 1950s.
Mr. Casey Fitzgerald of SJWMD calls it an “investment” and an “opportunity to have a partnership.” It is also an opportunity to spend three million dollars of taxpayer money.
Silver Springs has been studied extensively for decades. The solution to the problems surrounding Silver Springs is well documented and readily available for $26.20. For this sum, considerably less than three million, one can buy the book Silenced Springs (Alta Press, Gainesville, 2015.) by Dr. Robert Knight, who has dedicated much of his admirable and professional career doing the work that SJRWMD and UF have spent one of the three years of the project doing.
Irony is present in that SJRWMD itself is one of the main problems afflicting the springs. This agency continues to issue permits for huge withdrawals and allow large agricultural operations in the near springshed.
The mission of this agency, or so one would assume from its title, is to manage and protect the water resources. Sadly, under its management, the springs continue to decline and suffer more and more degradation.
This revealing article by Dr. Robert Knight is online in the Gainesville Sun and will soon appear in the hard copy.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Robert Knight: Silver Springs study delayed restorative action
The Florida Springs Institute commends the efforts of the dozens of University of Florida research faculty and students who just completed a three-year study of Silver Springs and the Silver River. Tens of thousands of hours were spent on and under the cold spring water collecting information, and on computers analyzing the data and writing the 1,085-page final study report.
After three years and roughly $3 million in state funding, UF has once again concluded that Silver Springs is experiencing excessive flow reductions and nitrate pollution.
Commissioned by the St. Johns River Water Management District in 2013, this scientific endeavor was initiated to learn more about the manageable factors that promote the growth of nuisance algae in Silver Springs. Numerous lines of investigation were pursued, and an encyclopedia of new data are now available that enhance understanding of springs ecosystem structure and function.
For example, wildlife biologists found that alligators feed more on crayfish than on fish, with the lowly mudfish and gar feeding higher on the aquatic foodchain. Ecologists found that filamentous algae overtaking springs are unpalatable by invertebrates that live in springs.
Hydrologists determined that most groundwater discharging from Silver Springs flows through caves and underground conduits rather than through the rock matrix. Stream morphologists concluded that sediment deposits in the Silver River likely formed when the river channel was a quiescent lake rather than a mighty river. And hydrologists confirmed that a long-term decline in flow velocity promotes a proliferation of filamentous algae in Silver Springs.
Project personnel at both UF and the St. Johns River Water Management District were divided into “super groups” and “research teams,” basically isolated within their narrow research disciplines. Collaborative discussion was not encouraged.
The basic question of what should be done to reverse statewide reductions in spring flows and increases in nitrate nitrogen pollution was not asked nor answered. In the process of conducting many dozens of individual experiments and measurements, there was no synthesis that recommended better management of springs by the water management districts or other state environmental protection agencies.
Dr. Howard Odum, a UF professor and the “father of springs ecology,” described in 1957 the effects of industrial groundwater pumping on the death of Central Florida’s Kissingen Spring. The Florida Springs Task Force formed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 1999 called for a cap on groundwater pumping and limits on nitrogen loading from urban and agricultural fertilizers and septic tanks.
The Silver Springs 50-year retrospective study, funded by the state and conducted by UF, Wetland Solutions and the district 14 years ago, found that depleted flow and elevated nitrate levels were causing significant and increasing ecological harm at Silver Springs. Multiple studies at Silver and Florida’s other major springs by the Florida Springs Institute have further documented the widespread loss of spring health and outlined the steps needed for their recovery.
The unstated purpose of this latest UF study was to delay taking any restorative action. Tragically, this tactic gave the district governing board the time and cover they needed to pass a highly flawed minimum flow rule and issue another groundwater pumping permit to Sleepy Creek that will result in further harmful flow reductions at Silver Springs.
For the past two decades, the best science has told us that our springs will respond favorably to cutting back on groundwater extractions and reducing nitrogen loads to the land surface. But changing the status quo that protects Florida’s land development and agribusiness profits is apparently taboo for the state’s elected and appointed officials.
Continuing to issue groundwater withdrawal permits and allowing more septic tanks is counter-productive to preserving Florida’s springs. Without vocal outrage from voters, our leaders will continue to put business-as-usual over the best interests of the public.
Robert L. Knight, Ph.D., began studying and publishing about Silver Springs in 1980 and has continued his scientific endeavors in aquatic ecology and management for the past 38 years. He is currently director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in High Springs and author of “Silenced Springs — Moving from Tragedy to Hope.”