Dr. Robert Knight, who sits on the OSFR advisory board, has published the following article in the Sept. 11, 2016 Gainesville Sun.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Fill vacuum in state leadership to fix springs
Posted Sep 8, 2016 at 2:00 PM Updated Sep 8, 2016 at 3:37 PM
For more than 30 years, Floridians have been painfully aware of the declining ecological health of their favorite springs.
In 1982, the Friends of the Wekiva River formed out of concern for the deterioration of this liquid treasure. In 1988, the Wekiva River and more than a dozen springs that are the source of its flow began receiving protective legislation, special designations, pollution-reduction goals and regulatory acronyms, including MFLs, TMDLs, PLRGs, BMAPs, etc. Yet, after more than three decades of declining flows and excessive pollution, it is safe to conclude that these special efforts to protect the Wekiva River springs are best described as the appearance of protection rather than the real thing.
Starting in 2000, under the administrations of Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, the Florida Springs Initiative was an ambitious effort to restore and protect all of Florida’s 1,000-plus artesian springs. Following 10 years of scientific study by the Florida Springs Task Force, this once-hopeful endeavor culminated in a final push to accelerate meaningful recovery at only three of the state’s springs — Silver, Rainbow and Wakulla. Not surprisingly, Florida’s new administration, under the direction of Gov. Rick Scott, quickly cancelled those restoration planning efforts shortly after taking office in 2011.
After so many bureaucratic delays, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act this year. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, this law places the responsibility for springs’ restoration in the hands of the same state agencies, using the same regulatory tools that have been so ineffective at fixing our dying springs over the past 30 years.
In the meantime, spring flows continue their long-term decline and elevated concentrations of nitrate nitrogen persist or increase in nearly all of the publicly owned and protected springs. Our priceless springs continue their decay as our state government has its eyes wide shut to its lack of success.
The private, non-profit Florida Springs Council was organized by springs’ advocates to fill this vacuum in state leadership. Comprising 36 member organizations that represent more than 150,000 supporters, the Florida Springs Council is focused on stopping the springs train wreck and putting our beloved springs back on track to a healthy future. With this goal in mind, the Florida Springs Council is hosting the Florida Springs Restoration Summit from Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 at the College of Central Florida in Ocala.
This month’s Florida Springs Restoration Summit is designed to educate the concerned public about springs’ health, and to motivate representatives of the state’s environmental agencies to enforce Florida’s springs-protection laws. Short presentations by 27 spring science and management experts will occur on Friday, Sept. 30. On Saturday, Oct. 1, 25 springs advocates sitting on seven panels will describe what must be done to accomplish springs’ restoration and protection.
John Moran, acclaimed nature photographer and writer, and U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, daughter of former Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham, will provide keynote lunch presentations on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The public will be active participants in this transfer of springs’ knowledge through their opportunity to direct questions to the presenters on Friday, and to join in the group discussions about the issues raised by each panel on Saturday.
Sunday’s activities will focus on outdoor adventures at Silver Springs. A flotilla of paddle craft led by springs’ experts will disembark from Rays Wayside Park at 8:30 a.m. for a round-trip to Silver Springs; while others are invited to tour the Silver Springs State Park with kayaks or on one of the famed glass-bottomed boats. Experienced boat captains will narrate the cultural and natural history of this largest spring in the world.
The Florida Springs Restoration Summit is designed to energize public supporters of Florida’s matchless artesian springs through education and involvement. Please consider taking part in this historic event. Registration is on-line at www.springsrestorationsummit.org.
— Robert Knight is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in High Springs.