Protecting Our Springs: SB 274 and Article by Dr. Robert Knight

Anyone willing to get involved and write Senators about SB 274 to protect springs, please do so now.  The next meeting is in Health Regulations Committee on Wed. @ 3 pm.

Springs protection is not just about protecting fish and wildlife habitat and popular crystal clear swimming holes from overgrowth by filamentous algae – it is mostly about protecting our underground aquifer.  Read the article HERE  in  the Gainesville Sun.  

Robert Knight: Now is the time to save Florida’s springs

By Robert Knight

Published: Sunday, April 12, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.

Last Modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 at 11:47 p.m.

Springs protection is not just about protecting fish and wildlife habitat and popular crystal clear swimming holes from overgrowth by filamentous algae – it is mostly about protecting our underground aquifer.

In pristine areas of Florida, nitrate nitrogen concentrations in the Floridan aquifer are about 10 to 20 parts per billion (ppb). In Silver and Rainbow springs the groundwater contains from 1,200 to 1,800 ppb of nitrate (elevated over the natural background by more than 6,000%). In Fanning Springs, located between the Suwannee River and a large agricultural area dominated by massive center-pivot crop circles and dairy farms, the average nitrate concentration is over 7,000 ppb – an increase of about 35,000% above the historic aquifer nitrate concentration.

Senator Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, introduced his Springs Protection Act (Senate Bill 274) at the beginning of the current session in a valiant attempt to solve this nitrate contamination issue.

Springs’ plants and animals that have to live in nitrate-contaminated groundwater 24/7 have undergone alarming changes throughout north and central Florida. Native aquatic plants, such as eelgrass, that used to dominate in springs have been largely replaced by unpalatable filamentous algae. Water clarity has declined as well as fish and wildlife populations that depended on the native plants that used to provide the food for “nature’s fishbowl.”

While nitrate at these levels in springs does not appear to be acutely toxic to fish and plants, there is no doubt that it is having chronic ecological effects. This brings up the issue of nitrate effects on the human environment.

The human health standard for nitrate nitrogen in drinking water in Florida is 10,000 ppb. This number is expected to be protective of the health of infants who are most susceptible to methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome,” where nitrite (a conversion product of nitrate) displaces the natural oxygen-carrying capacity of a baby’s blood.

Fortunately most of the Floridan aquifer is not yet up to the 10,000 ppb drinking water standard for nitrate. The good news is that it is not yet time to find another source for 90 percent of all drinking water in Florida (including bottled spring water).

The bad news is that a significant percentage of the upper Floridan aquifer into which we drill our public and private drinking water wells is above 1,000 ppb and rapidly rising towards that 10,000 ppb number.

Senate Bill 274 received unanimous approval by the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee on March 17 and was moved forward with only one dissenting vote by the Community Affairs Committee on April 6. Speaking for the bill were private citizens and environmental groups. Speaking against the bill was the Florida Homebuilders Association.

The Home Builders Association is concerned about increased costs for improved sewage disposal systems that reduce nitrate contamination to the groundwater. Agricultural interests are expected to oppose the bill, since it calls for the implementation of effective measures to reduce fertilizer nitrogen loads in agricultural areas.

Constantine’s springs protection bill is also expected to face opposition from the Senate Committee for Health Regulation on Wednesday and may die an early death, as have all springs protection bills attempted during the past four years.

The proposed bill’s emphasis on reducing nitrogen loads from over-crowded septic tanks may be its Achilles Heel.

It appears ironic that a bill that has so much to do with public health may fail in the Health Regulation Committee after receiving strong support by Environmental Preservation and Community Affairs committees.

Florida’s springs are ringing a warning bell for humans. We can only hope that the members of the Senate Health Regulation Committee can see that humans and springs are all dependent on the same groundwater.

Robert Knight is president of Wetland Solutions Inc. in Gainesville.

 

……………………..

Julie Brashears Wraithmell

Wildlife Policy Coordinator

Audubon of Florida

2507 Callaway Rd. Ste 103

Tallahassee, FL 32303

(850) 224-7546

(850) 527-0279 mobile

www.audubonofflorida.org

 

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