King’s Bay: The future is not so clear

Manatees in spring keeping warm, near King’s Bay.


Dan  Hilliard

The Citrus County Chronicle of today, Dec. 18, 2016 has the following article by Dr. Dan Hilliard about King’s Bay, which has been in need of help as explained in an excellent op-ed  by Dr. Robert Knight (see our post  “Make Crystal River Clear Again” Dec. 1, 2016)

As does Dr. Knight in his article, Dr. Hilliard points out some obvious flaws in the approach taken by the water management district.

King’s Bay is an example of the failure of our water districts to manage properly our springs and rivers.  Despite excellent water laws and legislation,  for decades our managers  have seen our springs and rivers continuously degrade and diminish under their watch.  So typical and so expected that after lengthy study and money spent, they conclude that a 12 per cent reduction (you could put any number here instead of 12) will not “significantly harm” the river.  After a few years perhaps another generation of Tallahassee-paid scientists will determine that another 12 per cent also would not harm the river.   And so on.

The above paragraph is of our words, not Dr. Hilliard’s.

Dr. Hilliard is also president of the Florida Springs Council.  Go to this link to see the original article in the Citrus County Chronicle.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life:  once taken, it cannot be brought back-

King’s Bay: The future is not so clear

Dan Hilliard, guest column, 12/18/16

Saturday, December 17, 2016 at 6:03 pm (Updated: December 17, 6:31 pm)

OK, my wife was right. I took a look at the peer panel draft for the King’s Bay/Crystal River Minimum Flows and Levels (MFL) recommendations recently published by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and had a tech seizure. My first attempt at this was a flourish of techno-babble, but after highest level counseling it was obvious that I needed to come back down to Earth.

I admire those who have pitched in to clean up King’s Bay for the last several years. It has been inspiring, a profound commitment if ever there were, and one we should all support. Citrus County is unique on this planet in that it has three first magnitude springs on the coast. They are a prime driver in our local economy and an aesthetic treasure only appreciated after firsthand inspection. It matters not whether you are from Tallahassee, Tokyo, Toronto, or Thuringia.

Kudos to you folks that are working tirelessly to protect these treasures!

The King’s Bay spring system discharges hundreds of millions of gallons of water daily, yet because of the bay’s large expanse, the flow takes a lengthy time to exit the system into coastal waters. In concert with nutrient pollution in the spring water, this leisurely stroll to the Gulf of Mexico promotes algae blooms, sometimes of profound nature. In scientific terminology this is described as residence time, or the span of time it takes from spring vent discharge to exit from King’s Bay.

In the aforementioned draft MFL rule recommendations staff presented a variety of data, and some assumptions which supported their conclusions about the system. With an objective of preventing “significant harm,” or 15 percent loss of habitat, it was recommended that a 12 percent flow reduction of the historic average discharge was acceptable.

Current estimates are that ground water withdrawals amount to approximately 15.3 million gallons/day (mgd) in the springshed. Although there is debate on this point, the measured average discharge of all springs in the system is presented as 447 cubic feet per second (cfs), or 289 mgd. Staff estimated that residence time in the bay is variable, ranging from approximately 7 to 15.5 days. The average is about 11 days.

The draft is currently being reviewed by an independent peer panel to critique the staff findings and recommendations to the Governing Board.

The recommended authorization for 12 percent reduction of flow will provide for future diversion of approximately 53.6 cfs or 34.68 mgd. This will increase residence time to an average of 12.5 days. It seems like a small sacrifice until one examines the range of times that make the average. What’s a day and a half, hey? Depending on seasonal variations of tides and spring flows the residence times might increase as little as 5.7 percent or as much as 30.9 percent. That would be eight to 16 days, depending on those variables.

District staff cited four scientific papers which examined the effect of residence time influence of algal blooms. A brief quote states; “Changes in residence time can contribute to increased frequency and severity of algal blooms within the estuaries.” OK, we sort of already figured that out.

Another quote presents as perfectly logical: “In an analysis of zooplankton in spring-fed and surface-fed estuaries in the District, Burghart and Peebles (2011) recommend that residence time be managed to limit phytoplankton blooms.”

But wait, there’s a staff punch line: “Sea level rise and residence time were considered as supplemental to minimum flow development. This means they were not considered as measured criteria for establishing significant harm to environmental values, as was the case for salinity and manatee thermal refuge.”

So, we are going to plan on allowing a significant increase of residence time so we see what happens? If you followed the bouncing ball with this perhaps you share my epiphany. I did not know that ignoring science was the foundation of sound science and recommendations to the Governing Board. Nevertheless, I am easily amused.

It appears there are green storm clouds approaching from the southwest. I wish the city of Crystal River and Citrus County the very best of luck.

Dan Hilliard is president of the Withlacoochee Aquatic Restoration, which was organized in 1984 in response to quality of life threats posed by activities that have a high potential to degrade groundwater and surface water quality.

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