Robert Knight: The Santa Fe River is being polluted, depleted

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rubysandy2 In: Robert Knight: The Santa Fe River is being polluted, depleted | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River


This is about elected and appointed officials not doing their jobs. We have ranted no end about this in the past.

For far too long, when the environment clashes with industry(money), the loser is always the environment.  Furthermore, state laws were written to favor industry and agriculture to the detriment of our water resources, at a time when water was thought to be unlimited.  Unfortunately, many still hold to that Medieval thought.

And when the environment loses, we lose.

All the more reason many are grasping on to the new concept granting rights to nature, in the same fashion as to people and corporations.  This movement is a potential solution to runaway politicians and judges bound to serve industry for personal gain.

This article will appear in the Nov. 10, 2019 edition of the Gainesville Sun.

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

Robert Knight: The Santa Fe River is being polluted, depleted

The Santa Fe River crosses half of North Florida, from Melrose to south of Branford, a distance of 75 river miles.

The Santa Fe receives surface water inflows from four named tributaries — the New River, Olustee Creek, Cow Creek and the Ichetucknee River — and terminates as the largest tributary to the more famous Suwannee River. Due to a mix of history, geography and luck, there is not a single dam, surface-water withdrawal or polluting pipe impeding or impacting this Outstanding Florida Waterway.

Despite this highest level of water quality protection and its remoteness from urban and industrial development, the Santa Fe River is not immune to harm. Dependent on the Floridan Aquifer and springs for most of its flow, the Santa Fe River has suffered a long-term flow reduction between 30% and 40% due to regional groundwater pumping. Adding additional injury, the Santa Fe receives an annual load of more than 2,000 tons of nitrogen pollution from the remaining groundwater inputs.

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Home to humans for the past 15,000 years, cursed by Hernando DeSoto nearly 500 years ago as the “River of Discord,” but still pristine during the last century, the Santa Fe has been transformed by the “progress of man” during the last half century. Now polluted and depleted, the Santa Fe River is well past the point of “significant harm,” manifested by degraded habitat and diminished fish and wildlife populations.

Florida’s elected government bears the responsibility for this unfolding tragedy. Florida’s current and former governors, legislators and the politically appointed heads of the environmental agencies entrusted with protection of the state’s surface water resources have failed the Santa Fe River in one short lifetime.

As is often the case, the villains in this true-crime story take no credit for the unintended but foreseeable consequences of their decisions. Paid public stewards should have a clear vision of their responsibilities and be held accountable when they fail to enforce environmental laws designed to protect critical resources like the Santa Fe River.

Florida’s governor directly or indirectly appoints all chief decision-makers at the Department of Environmental Protection and the water management districts. The power to intervene on the river and public’s behalf lies clearly in his hands.

Article 2, Section 7 of Florida’s constitution proclaims: “It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and for the conservation and protection of natural resources.”

Allowing the degradation of the Santa Fe River clearly does not comply with the constitution that state officials swore to uphold and is not in the public’s best interest.

What is the value of a healthy river? It is higher than the convenience of cheap milk or bottled water. It is greater than the profit margin of industrial farming. It is worth more than the enhanced profit for a developer putting in hundreds of septic systems. Surely it is greater than water- and fertilizer-hungry green urban lawns.

In a single human life span our civilization’s addiction to cheap and plentiful luxuries has despoiled an amazing gift of nature — the Santa Fe River. If this story is to have a happy ending, Florida needs responsible leaders who will help society reform its hedonistic tendencies. It is time to begin disassembling the mistakes of the past and take steps along the path to the river’s recovery.

Government represents the best and worst instincts of the citizens it governs. If we wish to hold our heads high as we are judged by future generations, we must elect leaders who will make protection of the environment and especially the restoration of the Santa Fe River their highest priority.

Dr. Robert Knight is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute located in High Springs and serves as an advisor to the non-profit Our Santa Fe River and Ichetucknee Alliance advocacy groups.



  1. I first experienced the Santa Fe River while skin diving from the outflow of the Ichetucknee under the bridge in 1975, at which time it was pristene and left immense impresions on me to come back numerous times during my cave diving schooling. I again floated down the Santa Fe in 2005 and this experience remained, ass it still seemed pure & un-spoiled ! It would be a huge loss to let this river succumb to pollution & industrial waste !

  2. Excellent article and opinion! As a property owner along the Sante Fe, I LOVE my river! I lived there for 7 years before moving to TN. The Sante Fe is a very special, magical place, deserving of protection!

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