This is an unending battle because those who are supposed to protect our springs and rivers don’t want to win it. We could restore our springs, it is not yet too late. But we don’t take the steps because there is a price we don’t want to pay. That price is to reduce pumping, which means we would curtail development. We would curtail irrigation for farms, and agriculture would complain.
We just saw where the Villages development has purchased 200 thousand acres to build new homes. We do not need that and there is no reason for that other than for someone to make money. We have enough money, we need our springs more than we need money.
Water management scientists juggle data and use those which are convenient to their case, ignoring others. It is hard to predict the future, but at the moment it seems that we will continue to kill our springs and rivers until there is nothing left.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Saving the springs is unending battle
The Ocala Star-Banner and Daytona Beach News-Journal
Water is crucial to our region’s economic and environmental future. On the surface, healthy lakes, rivers and springs act as natural attractions for swimming and fishing and critical wildlife habitat. Below ground, aquifers supply pure, fresh water for drinking, bathing and other daily activities. It’s all tied together: Water on the surface seeps down into the aquifer and bubbles back up through thousands of springs. A threat to any part of the system imperils everything.
And the biggest threats are well-known. Pavement that keeps rainwater from soaking into the ground. Leaking septic tanks that contaminate springs. Runoff that carries petroleum products and lawn fertilizer into water bodies. Over-pumping that draws up deeper reservoirs of salt water to spoil wells.
Because they provide a direct link between the aquifer and the surface, springs are one of the best harbingers of hydrological health — one that water management officials are obligated, by law and science, to take seriously. And local springs are clearly in distress. Silver Springs, which the state bought and took control of five years ago, is the veritable poster child for what ails Florida’s springs, with high nitrate levels and declining flow. Rainbow Springs, the centerpiece of one of the area’s most popular state parks, faces the same threats. Both these iconic springs are suffering from development and over-pumping.
But springs aren’t getting the protection they need. The St. Johns River Water Management District has approved plans for both Silver and Rainbow that will allow the spring flow to drop even further before stricter rules go into effect. The new rule — meant to comply with a legislative mandate to set “minimum flows and levels” for significant water bodies — infuriated local environmentalists, who pointed out that the flow of both springs is already causing ecological harm to the springs habitat.
What is particularly troublesome is that the water management officials for both St. Johns River and the Southwest Florida districts insist allowing the spring and river levels to fall even more will not constitute a threat to these water bodies. They obviously have not looked at the springs and the damage that is already occurring.
Nobody is pretending it will be easy to achieve restoration. The Department of Environmental Protection plans for reducing nitrates are extremely ambitious and skimpy on the specific steps needed to reduce pollutants in springs. But there are a few obvious solutions, including reducing the number of septic tanks in the area, continuing to push back against overuse of fertilizer and evaluating stormwater systems for efficiency in making groundwater cleaner. It should be a united effort — with vocal support from area counties and cities for rules that will make it easier for them to require better water-use measures in future development, and roll back damage done by existing facilities.
We have been having this conversation about our springs for decades and the latest efforts have been underway for nearly half a decade. We need stringent rules, more aggressive conservation and anti-pollution programs and serious goals for reducing over-pollution and over-consumption.
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