Dedicated to the protection of birds, other animals, and their habitats through education and activism
Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170; president@SEVolusiaAudubon.org
For centuries, springs have been a powerful part of Florida’s allure, embodying a feeling of paradise. Springs are intertwined in Florida’s history, with one of the more famous examples being Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon’s purported quest in 1513 for the fabled spring known as the “Fountain of Youth.”
Today, many springs are part of state parks or national forests. There are about 700 known springs throughout the Sunshine State — one of the largest concentrations on Earth — ranging from small springs that trickle water to first-magnitude springs that discharge millions of gallons a day. There are 96 known springs within the St. Johns River Water Management District’s 18-county jurisdiction.
Florida’s springs have thrived for tens of thousands of years, but are now facing threats to their health.
“It’s one of the salient environmental issues in the state,” says Ed Lowe, chief of the District’s Bureau of Environmental Sciences, who has studied springs for nearly a decade. “There are a lot of people concerned about Florida’s springs.”
The District has been working with other agencies for many years on
projects and initiatives that protect springs systems and is continuing
to gather information that will help determine the best methods for
protecting them, says Don Boniol, a District hydrologist in the Bureau
of Groundwater Sciences.
Part of the District’s efforts to better understand springs involves
field work. Teams of environmental scientists collect quarterly water
samples at 22 springs. Tiffany Trent and Angela Davis, comprising one
of the teams, move with efficiency as they collect samples. On this
particular day, they gather samples from six springs — Orange,
Alexander, Juniper, Fern Hammock, Silver Glen and Salt Spring —
capturing a snapshot of water quality at each. Davis drops a small
tubular gadget called a hydrolab into the water to measure dissolved
oxygen, pH levels, temperature and conductivity (a measurement of
saltiness). The data appears on a screen and Davis transcribes them to
a spreadsheet. Trent, meanwhile, gathers other water samples for lab
“We have to work quickly,” Trent says. “Typically, our work load in a day will be 10 springs.”
In addition to the District’s work, the U.S. Geological Survey has been gathering discharge data from Rock, Wekiwa and a few other springs since the 1930s and there are some water quality data for springs dating back to 1907.
“We collect discharge data at 31 springs,” Boniol says. “We try to
cover most of the larger springs. We analyze water quality samples for
19 springs. It’s important to have a long-term data collection network
to assess current conditions as well as look at long-term trends.”
So, what do long-term trends tell us? Three things are causing people to be concerned about Florida’s springs, Lowe says:
· Reductions in flows at many springs
· Increasing nitrate concentrations to levels much higher than natural levels (know as background levels)
· Changes in biology, such as an overgrowth of algae on spring bottoms
Florida’s springs originate in the Floridan aquifer — a vast
underground network of porous rock full of water. Where groundwater is
under pressure and can flow upward to land surfaces or into a body of
water, it forms a spring. Rainfall that seeps into the aquifer is the
major source of water flow in a spring, so periods of drought or
extended wet periods can directly impact spring flows. By the same
token, pollutants can seep into the aquifer, which is the source of
rising nitrate levels in springs. Immediate actions may include
redirecting wastewater away from springsheds, thereby reducing the
amount of pollutants that eventually reaches the spring.
The trick, scientists say, is deciphering the reasons why these
changes are occurring. To that end, the District is enhancing work to
understand the complex nature of springs with a major initiative that
began in fall 2012. Plans for the District’s Springs Protection
Initiative include implementation of measures to improve springs’ water
quality and to protect spring flows.
“The Initiative includes investigations to improve our understanding
of nitrate sources and how to manage them and to lay the foundation for
development of a plan to restore the biological condition of springs
and spring runs,” Lowe says. “Our goal is a firmer, stronger
understanding of how these springs systems work.”
Visit floridaswater.com/springs for more information about springs in the District.