Protecting Florida's Freshwater Springs

Among Florida's distinctive natural resources are more than 900 freshwater springs, generally located throughout the northern and central areas of the state. This concentration of springs is one of the largest in the world and has long been instrumental in the development of this region, serving as a source of water, food, and recreation. Springs are a vital part of Florida's ecosystem— a "natural aquarium" for many of the state's fish and reptile species.

A Threatened Natural Resource

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection defines a spring as "a point where groundwater flows out of the ground…where the aquifer surface meets the surface of the earth." Today, many of the state's springs are threatened by water depletion and pollution. Recreational activities can result in damage to native vegetation, soil erosion, water turbidity, and direct damage due to boat propellers and anchors. Septic tanks discharge nutrient containing effluent into spring sheds. Lawn care, involving frequent watering and the use of fertilizers, can damage the balance of spring ecosystems. Floridians' daily water consumption—estimated at an average of 103 gallons per day—also impacts groundwater resources and threatens the health of springs.

The State of Florida and many local water management districts have made spring restoration and protection initiatives a priority in recent years. Projects include work within the immediate vicinity of springs, such as streambank restoration and improved infrastructure to protect springs; and remote projects that impact the springshed, such as wastewater treatment systems that reduce nutrients and improve the quality of water.

Florida Spring Protection

Protecting Water Quality

In Wakulla County, for example, two wastewater system connection projects now in design will help protect Wakulla Springs, one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world and home to one of the 19 state parks named for springs. The project will convert more than 400 homes in the Magnolia Gardens and Wakulla Gardens neighborhoods from on-site sewage and disposal systems to the county's central sewer facility. The removal of the existing septic systems will reduce nutrient loading to Wakulla Springs—one of 33 first-magnitude springs in the state, defined as a spring that discharges water at a rate of 100 cubic feet per second. In addition to design services, we have assisted the county with grant writing and will provide permitting, bidding, and construction phase services.

At the Econfina Springs Complex in Bay and Washington Counties, I managed a project for the Northwest Florida Water Management District that is improving water quality in the Pitt, Sylvan, and Williford springs. The work included natural restoration, such as stormwater runoff control, bank restoration, and revegetation of native plantings, as well as infrastructure improvements that will control public use and protect the streams. These upgrades, all of which have been completed, include the development of defined areas for outdoor use, designated parking areas, elevated boardwalks, restrooms with composting toilets, and new docks.

Doing Our Part

With the leadership and initiative of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state's water management districts, and proactive local governments, freshwater springs in the Sunshine State will be preserved and protected, and water quality will continue to improve. While many important projects are underway at the state and local level, we can all do our part to protect springsheds—taking care when we visit springs to avoid damage to vegetation in the water and along the banks, and disposing of trash properly. At home, we can conserve water, minimize use of fertilizers, and follow guidelines for septic tank inspections and trash disposal. Together, we can ensure that these natural treasures are protected for generations to come.

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