The Santa Fe River Springs Protection Forum met on Friday, July 24 at the Alachua Branch of the Alachua County Library. Four speakers presented topics of interest to a full house with no empty seats. Several OSFR members, including President Pam Smith, were among the audience.
The purpose of the Santa Fe River Springs Protection Forum is to create a forum in which professionals, government entities, and citizens can learn about and discuss issues and activities that can affect the quality and quantity of water in Poe, Ginnie, Hornsby and Gilchrist Blue Springs and their contributing areas in Alachua, Columbia, and Gilchrist Counties.
Dr. Rick Copeland of AquiferWatch Inc. outlined a structure for using volunteers to assist in monitoring groundwater and springs protection endeavors. Dr. Copeland just recently brought to completion a study to detect the nitrate quantities in wells in the vicinity of Poe Springs. OSFR assisted in this in various ways. The presence of salt water deep in the earth and its increasing encroachment into the upper aquifer was also explained. This is happening not just along the Florida coast, but also inland throughout the state. All the more reason not to alter what nature has devised when the consequences are unknown.
The St. Johns River Water Management District began a Springs Protection Initiative in late 2012 that combines science, projects, planning and regulatory programs to reduce nitrate loading and protect spring flows. Casey Fitzgerald of St Johns River Water Management District explained in detail that the initiative is a focused effort to achieve springs protection through science that builds on past work, seeking to develop the most cost-effective actions to reduce nitrate loading to the springs, and addressing other factors contributing to growth of undesirable algae in the springs and also projects to reduce nitrate loading and other factors that adversely affect springs. When Mr. Fitzgerald began putting dollar figures on these projects, Dr. Robert Knight of the Florida Springs Council asked the question “why not save billions by not issuing excessive water use permits which degrade the springs in the first place?” His answer was “That’s a rhetorical question.”
Brian Katz of the Florida DEP spoke on Santa Fe best management practices in both agricultural and urban situations. His focus area was 185 square miles which included Ginnie and Gilchrist Blue Springs. It also includes about 3,500 septic tanks, sprayfields and diaries. By combining the water quality data with information on land use practices and changes in springsheds, ground water flow patterns and other hydrologic conditions, and climate, one can better understand the factors controlling the transport and fate of nutrients in the subsurface, changes in water quality over time, and how best management practices affect ground water and spring water quality. Somewhat frightening is the presence of the pesticides in the springs, groundwater and river water, even in small amounts. Present in this area are hexazinone, atrazine, deethylatrazine, norflurazon and bentazone.
Pete Butt of Karst Environmental Solutions spoke in detail of the hydrological features in the near vicinity of Poe Springs. These include seeps, spring vents, swallots, and what is called “flowing sinks” among other features. Many of these are off the river a short distance and easily overlooked. Many of these are now platted on maps, and a few have been explored by cave divers but not all. This area will be the featured field trip offered by the Springs Protection Forum on Oct. 22.