Our famous springs need this water bill
We keep polluting our most famous springs, and yet it’s been five years since the Legislature has done something about it. Lawmakers have another chance this session. Dr. Robert Knight of Wetlands Solutions, Gainesville, has an article in the Tampa Bay Times outlining the importance of this bill. Continue reading to see the article. The original piece appeared HERE in the Sunday March 8 edition of the Tampa Bay Times.
A turtle climbs onto a log in the Wekiva River, the last springshed protected by the Legislature. That was five years ago, and Florida’s other important springs and its aquifer still need help.
We keep polluting our most famous springs, and yet it’s been five years since the Legislature has done something about it. Lawmakers have another chance this session.
Springs feed the underground aquifer, the source of 90 percent of Florida’s drinking water. And as nitrates pollute our springs, and overuse drops their flows, we risk endangering the very waters that give life to our state.
We must act before it’s too late.In 2004, lawmakers boldly agreed to protect the Wekiva River system, voting that the Wekiva and “its associated springshed areas are of irreplaceable value to the quality of life and well-being of the people of the State of Florida” and that the “protection of the surface and groundwater resources, including recharge within the springshed that provides for the Wekiva River System, is crucial to the long-term viability of the Wekiva River and springs and the central Florida region’s water supply.”
The law required the St. Johns River Water Management District to develop goals for reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and to update allowable minimum flows to protect the Wekiva, which flows north from Orlando to the St. Johns River.
Since then not a single additional spring or spring-fed ecosystem has been protected by legislative consensus. Though bills have been introduced each of the past three years, not one has made it to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote.
For the fourth year in a row, a placeholder (Senate Bill 274, submitted by Sen. Lee Constantine, a Republican from Altamonte Springs, sponsor of 2004’s successful effort to save the Wekiva) sits there, waiting. It would establish stringent limits on the allowable springshed pollution sources to reverse the alarming increase in nitrates in four of Florida’s most famous springs: Wakulla, Ichetucknee, Silver and Rainbow. They have a combined annual direct economic impact of roughly $130 million. They have all been damaged by nitrate, a result of excessive fertilizer use and weak waste management.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) “Springs Initiative” recently published its Draft 2008 Monitoring Network Report, which says unequivocally, “the introduction of nitrogen is the most obvious stressor to the ecology of springs in Florida, stimulating profuse overgrowth of algae and an imbalance in ecosystems of spring runs.” The springs with highest nitrate concentrations are in agricultural areas or former agricultural areas. The springs with low nitrate concentrations are in undeveloped areas dominated by forest lands.
The current situation is so bad that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned DEP that it will regulate and set standards for nitrogen and phosphorus entering flowing waters in Florida by December if DEP fails to act sooner. These criteria will ultimately lead to strict and enforceable limits on the amount of nutrient pollution that can be discharged in Florida’s springs and other surface waters.
The Springs Initiative 2008 monitoring report also worries about the alarming reduction in levels in our underground aquifers. Spring discharge is directly linked to water levels in the aquifer, and the quality of our drinking water is directly affected by the amount of pollutants (particularly nitrate nitrogen) in that ground water.
In addition to these effects on spring ecology and human health, lowered groundwater levels hurt other surface water bodies, including lakes, rivers and wetlands. For springs, declining flows are a death knell — the list of springs that are drying up due to overpumping and drought and becoming “algal bowls” is growing longer every year. Even Silver Springs, formerly the U.S. champion in terms of long-term flows, is showing a measurable decline that cannot be completely explained by decreased rainfall in the springshed. The documented decline in Silver Springs’ discharge over the last 56 years reflects a net loss of about 200 cubic feet per second — roughly equivalent to the current combined flow of Volusia Blue and Wekiwa springs combined.
Despite these very real worries, the Constantine springs’ protection bill still lacks a sponsor in the House, so it could simply wither and die again. If it does, so may our threatened springs. They are already on the brink of disaster.
I suggest that everyone invest four minutes to watch the “Springs Heartland” video prepared by Karst Productions for the Suwannee River Water Management District (http:// ichetuckneeforever.org/). There’s a simple take-home message for the Florida taxpayer: It is better to avert a disaster than to pay for it afterward.
Robert Knight is an aquatic and wetland scientist and has been conducting applied research in Florida’s springs and wetlands for over 30 years. He is president of Wetland Solutions Inc. in Gainesville and teaches graduate-level courses in springs’ ecology and the use of constructed wetlands for water quality improvement at the University of Florida.
Our famous springs need this water bill 03/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 7, 2009 3:30am]