Skip to content

Florida’s plans don’t do enough to protect Wekiva River

Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

 

Published Dec. 29, 2020 in The Orlando Sentinel

 

Central Florida’s Wekiva River and its springs are facing a double whammy: declining water levels and nutrient pollution.

 

Two state plans meant to address the problems fall short and simply won’t protect an ecosystem that generates $60 million in revenue annually and supports 500 jobs.

 

Recently, the St Johns River Water Management District adopted its 2020 water supply plan for Central Florida. The plan predicts that by 2040, groundwater withdrawals will increase by about 36% from 2015 levels unless more aggressive water conservation programs and alternative water supplies are used. However, the same plan estimates that the aquifer can support only a 14% increase.

According to the plan, projected groundwater withdrawals will cause flows in the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs to drop below the state’s adopted minimum flow and level between 2025 and 2030. However, district data show that flow from Wekiwa Springs has been at or below its required level 60% of the time from 2003 to 2018. And the plan acknowledges that flows from Palm and Starbuck springs, which also feed the Wekiva River, are already less than the minimum needed to maintain healthy ecosystems.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has proposed new rules that would limit groundwater withdrawals by public utilities to their projected 2025 water demands. But that’s only half the story.

The rules also would allow utilities to continue withdrawing more groundwater for up to five additional years, with approval only from the water management district’s staff. And the district’s board could even approve variances to the rules, potentially allowing utilities to withdraw even more groundwater.

Other users, such as commercial, institutional, agricultural and landscape/recreational users, would need to demonstrate only how much water they need in order to continue withdrawing from the aquifer. We need withdrawal limits that protect our natural resources and leaders who will stick to them.

A second plan by DEP addresses increasing pollution — primarily nitrate and phosphate — that help fuel algae that chokes the river. That plan is also woefully inadequate.

In 2018, DEP estimated that more than a million pounds of nitrogen annually flows into the portion of the upper Floridan aquifer that supplies water to Wekiwa and Rock springs and other local springs. More than 50% of the nitrogen comes from fertilizers used on lawns, sports turf and agricultural lands. Another 30% comes from septic tanks.

Nitrate and phosphate levels in Wekiwa and Rock springs are already 3 to 4 times higher than DEP says is safe for healthy ecosystems. However, DEP’s plan would reduce total nitrogen loads only by about 20%, which is insufficient to restore or sustain the aquatic ecosystem.

Friends of the Wekiva River challenged the DEP plan in January 2019, and in November 2019 joined other environmental groups in testifying at an administrative hearing. To date, the administrative law judge has not ruled.

The Wekiva River is an Aquatic Preserve, an Outstanding Florida Water and one of just two rivers in the state to be named a federal Wild and Scenic River. These designations recognize the river’s tremendous natural assets. And recently, FOWR joined with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council to show the economic significance of the river and springs: $60 million in revenue yearly and 500 jobs.

Taking the following steps could help save this economic and natural resource:

1. Develop prevention and recovery plans for Palm and Starbuck springs.

2. Require utilities, industry, agriculture and other water users to implement aggressive water conservation measures, particularly for landscape irrigation. The district estimates that half of the water currently supplied for drinking is used for landscape irrigation — a very inefficient and costly practice.

3. Require Florida-Friendly Landscaping for new homes and businesses to reduce use of fertilizers and irrigation.

4. Offer incentives for conversion of existing lawns and landscaping to Florida-Friendly Landscaping.

5. Impose a per-gallon water use fee for water withdrawn from aquifers, streams and lakes.

6. Establish and enforce restrictions on irrigation of lawns and landscaping.

7. Provide more incentives for agricultural best management practices.

8. Require central sewer systems for all new subdivisions within the Wekiwa and Rock springs springsheds.

9. Install central sewer systems in existing Wekiva-area subdivisions that use septic tanks.

FOWR believes that groundwater withdrawals and excess nutrients will continue to degrade the natural treasures that have drawn people to Central Florida for centuries.

We must protect these environmental jewels for ourselves and future generations to enjoy.

Mike Cliburn is a retired environmental engineer and secretary of the Friends of the Wekiva River and the Florida Springs Council.

In memory of Bill Belleville

Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Bill Belleville, renowned Florida environmental activist and true Friend of the Wekiva and St. Johns Rivers died in Sanford in August. Bill served on the board of the Friends of the Wekiva River for several decades. He held the position of vice president and was actively involved in dozens of activities. He was particularly good at leading field trips and articulating the importance of conservation through references to native American culture, biology, literature, and his own spiritual connection to the river system.

Bill was a noted author of books and short stories about the beauty and vulnerability of central Florida’s waterways. He produced inspiring films documenting the splendor of Florida’s springs and rivers and their susceptibility to pollution and groundwater withdrawal. He was an influential speaker with an ability to move audiences with beautiful prose in speeches that blended art and science. As much as anything, he was a passionate outdoorsman who believed that to genuinely love and appreciate nature you had to deeply experience it.

A few years ago, Bill and Steve Phelan spearheaded an effort to identify what they called the “Hidden Springs of Black Water Creek” in the Wekiva basin. They used topo maps to estimate the locations of previously un-mapped springheads deep in the woods of Seminole State Forest. They then traipsed through the woods to see if these candidate sites included small springs that fed the Creek – several sites did. Afterwards, Bill and Steve led Friends of the Wekiva River field trips where Bill described the ancient ecology of Shark-tooth Springs, discussed the importance of the isolated spring runs to the evolution of unique species of snails, and cited poetry that unveiled the emotions he felt while immersed in those unique landscapes. Those kinds of trips were great experiences for novice and knowledgeable adventurers, and Bill led many of them.

Bill was a stalwart advocate, motivating communicator and an enduring Friend of the Wekiva River. He is already missed.

 

Sentiments

 

Bill Belleville was an extraordinary mentor, colleague, teacher, and friend. Although I was already a fan of his writing we didn’t meet until the founding of Equinox Documentaries. There we combined our hopes of helping Floridians find a sense of place and, therefore, love of the state’s natural wonders. Bill often spoke to my classes at Rollins College and led field trips into the wilds of Central Florida where students pondered why there were ancient shark teeth in freshwater streams. Together we slogged through many palmetto stands to find native mounds and remnants of old settlements and we kayaked through area waters, stopping to admire beautiful flowers or massive alligators. He helped me better understand the beauty of Florida, so beautifully expressed in his writing. He was Florida’s Thoreau and my friend. He will be greatly missed.

—-Leslie Poole, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Rollins College

 

I first met Bill when Seminole Audubon Society (SAS) along with Friends of the Wekiva River (FOWR), Sierra Club, and numerous Sanford residents were opposing the Astor Farms development in Sanford. Bill wrote an article about urban sprawl using the specifics of the then-proposed development as a prime example of sprawl and leap-frog development. The article was picked up by the national Sierra Club magazine.

At that time Bill was working on his first book, River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida’s St. Johns River. In my mind, this was Bill’s masterpiece in which he describes his journey down the 310-mile length of the St. Johns River. He shares his experiences and insights gained while kayaking, boating, hiking its banks, diving its springs, and exploring its underwater caves. I rarely reread books, but this one I have read three times, and I still pick it up now and then to read a chapter.

Bill described himself as a nonfiction writer specializing in nature and conservation. He authored six books, contributed to eight national anthologies, wrote over 1000 articles, scripted and co-produced seven films. All his work has the thread of the importance of establishing connections between people and places. As I write this I can hear Bill at one of the FOWR Board meetings we attended together over the last twenty years saying we need to facilitate people making a connection with natural Florida whether it be on the Wekiva River, in Seminole State Forest, or another of Florida’s special places. Once that connection is made they will then care about it and help us to preserve it. This is a thread in all his works.

Bill gave willingly of his time and talents to various non-profits, his favorites being FOWR and St Johns Riverkeeper. On numerous occasions, Bill was a guest speaker for SAS meetings. He loved and cared for Florida in ways few others have done, and he will be missed by all of us in the environmental community.

—-Faith Jones, Board member, FOWR

 

We first met Bill in the very early days of the FOWR and he quickly became a friend and a very active member of the board. Bill was a frequent contributor to the monthly FOWR newsletter and he was a fervent and involved board member. He was an excellent writer, explorer and adventurer and he knew his ”home”, the Wekiva lands and waters better than anyone; he loved to share that knowledge.

We always enjoyed his company, the thoughtful conversations we had with him and the sharing of a good laugh.  He was an avid and enthusiastic advocate for the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs; it is hard to believe he is gone.

—–Pat & Fred Harden, founding members of the FOWR

 

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”- The Peace of Blue- Bill Belleville

Bill served on the board of the Friends of the Wekiva and served as vice president. He valued and shared his expertise and communicated the importance of conservation. He used references to American culture, biology, literature, and his own spiritual connection to the river system to inform audiences and hikers.

Bill was a noted author of books, articles, and short stories about the beauty and vulnerability of central Florida’s waterways. He partnered and produced inspiring films documenting the splendor of Florida’s springs and rivers and their susceptibility to pollution and groundwater deprevation. He was an influential speaker with an ability to move audiences with beautiful prose in speeches that blended art and science. As much as anything, he was a passionate outdoorsman who believed that to genuinely love and appreciate nature you had to deeply experience it.

A few years ago, Bill and Steve Phelan spearheaded an effort to identify what they called the “Hidden Springs of Black Water Creek” in the Wekiva basin. They used topo maps to estimate the locations of previously un-mapped springheads deep in the woods of Seminole State Forest. They then traipsed through the woods to see if these candidate sites included small springs that fed the Creek – several sites did. Afterwards, Bill and Steve led Friends of the Wekiva River field trips where Bill described the ancient ecology of Shark-tooth Springs, discussed the importance of the isolated spring runs to the evolution of unique species of snails, and cited poetry that unveiled the emotions he felt while immersed in those unique landscapes. Those kinds of trips were great experiences for novice and knowledgeable adventurers, and Bill led many of them.

Bill was a stalwart advocate, motivating communicator, and an enduring friend of the Wekiva River. All who knew him will miss his kindness and wealth of knowledge.

Enjoy and remember Bill while reading this selected list of books. You will find a “peace of blue.”

• “The Peace of Blue: Water Journeys”

• “Salvaging the Real Florida: Lost & Found in the State of Dreams”.

• “Deep Cuba: The Inside Story of an American Oceanographic Expedition

• “Sunken Cities, Sacred Cenotes and Golden Sharks: Travels of a Water-Bound Adventurer”.

• “Losing it All to Sprawl: How Progress Ate my Cracker Landscape”

• “River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida’s St. Johns River”

   —– Carole Hinshaw, board member, Friends of the Wekiva River

Central Florida’s newly updated water supply plan leaves springs under threat

Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Central Florida’s newly updated water supply plan leaves springs under threat

Our growing population’s thirst for water is projected to increase 53 percent in the next 20 years and water managers’ plans to meet the demand could harm our springs.

A new draft 2020 plan for managing water supplies says the Floridan Aquifer — the state’s underwater sponge-like limestone system that provides water to people and the environment — can safely support withdrawals of 760 million gallons a day in Central Florida. After that, there is too little water to keep springs and rivers flowing at healthy levels.

The new draft water plan predicts groundwater withdrawals in central Florida will increase to 855 million gallons a day by 2040 unless more aggressive water conservation programs and/or alternative water supplies are implemented. And here’s another problem: Water managers have already granted permits to allow withdrawals of more than a billion gallons a day. Not all of those permits are in use now; some are planned for future growth.

How is Central Florida going to meet these growing water demands while protecting the water needs of lakes, wetlands, springs and rivers that support our natural environment, agriculture, tourism, economy, and community lifestyles?

Every five years, water managers update the Regional Water Supply Plan (RWSP) to address water use, conservation, alternative water supplies and other issues. The draft 2020 plan was authored by the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) composed of three water authorities that have jurisdiction in the region that includes Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Polk and part of southern Lake Counties. Those authorities are the South Florida, St. Johns River and Southwest Florida water management districts.

We believe their draft plan is woefully inadequate and actually leaves Central Florida’s natural environment in danger.

The draft plan forecasts that flows in the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs will fall short of their currently mandated minimum flows by 2027 if groundwater withdrawals continue to increase as projected. Already, Palm Springs, one of the springs that feeds into the Wekiva River, falls short of its required minimum flows.

The draft plan identifies potential conservation measures and 39 alternative water supply projects that could reduce groundwater withdrawals. However, none of the proposed alternative water supply projects within the Wekiwa springshed would significantly reduce groundwater withdrawals.

Although public water supply demand is projected to increase 53 percent between 2015 and 2040, with lawn irrigation accounting for the biggest chunk, the identified conservation measures would reduce that demand by about only 7 percent. The plan estimates agricultural operations will reduce their water use by only 2.5 percent.

Potential alternative water supplies include drilling deeper wells in some areas, so water closer to surface isn’t tapped for all of the additional needs. However, withdrawing groundwater from deeper wells can also reduce water levels in the Upper Floridan Aquifer, which would reduce the flows from our springs. Another idea is building reservoirs or other storage areas to capture water from the St. Johns River during high flow conditions. The Taylor Creek Reservoir, currently used by the City of Cocoa Beach to store water, is an example.

To protect our springs and rivers in the Wekiva basin, Friends of the Wekiva River believes the water management districts must require utilities, industry, agriculture and other water users to implement aggressive water conservation measures, particularly for irrigation of landscaping, It is also urgent to protect the dwindling flows of Starbuck and Palm Springs and reduce already permitted groundwater withdrawals to match the amount of water that will be safely available.

In 2015, Central Florida’s population used approximately 635 million gallons per day. The area’s population is projected to reach approximately 4.4 million by 2040, which is a 49 percent increase from 2015. More people mean more water needs. But one of the core missions of Florida’s water management districts is to protect our water resources and aquatic ecosystems while assuring a sustainable water supply.

We cannot allow water withdrawals to harm the natural assets that draw people to Florida in the first place. We owe ourselves and future generations a state with all the natural wonders that make it special — and the water it takes to do that.

The Friends of the Wekiva River recommend the following actions to protect the water resources of the Wekiva Basin:

· The draft RWSP should be revised to reduce groundwater withdrawals in and around the Wekiva Basin so that Palm and Starbuck Springs will meet their currently adopted MFLs. Alternatively, the RWSP should demonstrate how proposed alternative water supply projects in the Wekiva Basin will reduce groundwater withdrawals that are causing Palm and Starbuck Springs to fall below their currently adopted MFLs.

· The RWSP should give top priority to conserving water supplies within Central Florida. The water management districts should require more aggressive water conservation efforts by local utilities, agriculture, commercial enterprises, and landscape/recreation sites. Local governments must adopt more stringent limits on irrigation of existing lawns and drastically restrict the amount of grass lawns in new developments.

· To reduce existing and projected water demand, the water management districts should impose a water use fee per gallon for water withdrawn from our aquifers, streams, and lakes. Currently, there is no such fee. Utilities, businesses and agriculture get water for free after paying a fee for a permit. Utilities charge customers for water that is treated.

· The RWSP should require the water management districts to modify existing water use permits so that the Floridan Aquifer’s sustainable yield of 760 million gallons per day will not be exceeded under the permits that have already been issued.

· The St Johns River Water Management District must adopt Prevention and Recovery Plans for Palm and Starbuck Springs in conjunction with adoption of the 2020 CFWI RWSP. Prevention plans must be developed as soon as possible for the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs to prevent them from falling below their currently adopted MFLs before 2027.

The Wekiva River Needs its Water — Managers to Set Minimum Flow and Level

Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

The Wekiva River Needs its Water — Managers to Set Minimum Flow and Level

How much water does the Wekiva River need to remain healthy? Water managers are trying to figure that out.

Minimum flows and levels, known as MFLs, establish the amount of water necessary to prevent significant harm to water resources or ecosystems. The levels, which are required by Florida law, are supposed to help guide and limit water withdrawals for human use in an area around a water body. If a water body’s flows and levels dip below the minimum, it can suffer low oxygen levels and poor water quality, which can harm fish and other animals.

The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) is working to revise the current MFLs for Wekiwa Springs, Rock Springs and the Wekiva River at State Road 46. For the first time, the district also will establish an MFL for the Little Wekiva River. District officials, who previously held two public meetings in 2018 to review the method for setting the flows and levels, will host public workshops later this year to review the proposed MFLs. Friends of the Wekiva River will stay on top of these developments and keep you posted.

MFLs define how often and for how long the high, intermediate and low water flows and/or levels can occur without causing significant harm to the ecosystem. Two to five MFLs are typically chosen for each water body. The MFLs are defined as the minimum infrequent high, minimum frequent high, minimum average, minimum frequent low, and minimum infrequent low flow or level. Because flows and levels of rivers, lakes, and springs are dynamic and vary naturally, the District seeks to capture and protect high, low, and average conditions by setting multiple MFLs for each priority* water body. The SJRWMD uses the most constraining MFL for determining the amount of water that can be withdrawn safely.

If the SJRWMD determines that a water body is projected not to meet its adopted MFL, a Prevention and Recovery Plan will be developed that includes strategies for water withdrawals to be maintained at or below sustainable limits through conservation and regulatory measures. Impacts from water withdrawals can also be mitigated through water supply development projects — such as reclaimed water, aquifer recharge and alternative water supply sources.

Since the program began in 1990, MFLs have been established for 101 lakes, six rivers, seven wetlands and 10 springs within the 18-county area managed by the SJRWMD. The current MFLs for the Wekiva Basin, which were adopted into the Florida Administrative Code Chapter 40C-8.031. More

information about the SJRWMD’s MFL program is available at: https://www.sjrwmd.com/minimumflowsandlevels/wekiva-basin/

*What’s a Priority Water Body?

Water Bodies are included on the SJRWMD Priority List if they are considered waters of importance to the state or region. The list also includes waters that are experiencing or are reasonably expected to experience adverse impacts. Development of MFLs for water bodies on the Priority List take precedence over water bodies not listed.

Saturday, March 14 — Paddle Among the Cypress

Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Saturday, March 14 — Paddle Among the Cypress– CANCELLED FOR COVID

Friends of the Wekiva River is leading a very special kayak/canoe paddle to Lake Norris. After a short paddle on Blackwater Creek we will enter Lake Norris to explore the amazing cypress trees and view nesting osprey. We will return to the launch site through Blackwater Creek.

If the wind is high this trip could be rated MODERATE.  If the water is flat it is considered an EASY  paddle.
When: Saturday, March 14
Time:  8:30 am
Length of Paddle: Approximately 2 hours.
Bring your own canoe or kayak or rent a canoe or kayak for $20 . We have 5, 1 person kayaks and 2 canoes available for rent.
Must reserve by Thursday, March 12.
Also bring water, snacks, sun screen, hat, insect repellant, water shoes.
**** If you would like, bring a picnic to enjoy after the paddle at the launch site.
Meet at: Lake Norris Conservation Area, Lake Norris Rd, Lake County (7miles northeast of Eustis and north of CR 44A)
For reservation, information and rental call Weegie at 407-341-9025.

 

Feb 8 — Visit a cemetery, learn from a biologist

Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Saturday, Feb. 8 — Visit a cemetery, learn from a biologist

Join Friends of the Wekiva River at 9:00 am Saturday, February  8th, for a hike through a section of the sand pine scrub and pine flatwoods in Rock Springs Run State Reserve to the scant remains of an old cemetery.
Paul Lammardo, environmental specialist/biologist for the Wekiva River Basin State Parks, will share his knowledge of the ecology, flora and fauna in the area. He will also provide background information on the settlers of Ethel. Old grave markers are the only remaining signs of Ethel, which started in the later 1800’s with sawmills and turpentine stills. Ethel had a church with a school and a railroad flag stop. Sanford’s newspaper covered family dinners, social events, school calendars and burials that took place in this small town west of Sanford.
* The round trip hike and talk should take less than two hours. There is no charge, except for the state’s $3-per-vehicle entrance fee.
* Bring water, insect repellent, sunscreen, hat and snacks if desired.
* Rock Springs Run State Reserve is near Sorrento.  From Orlando, take I-4 to Exit 101C and travel west on State Road 46 for about 10 miles to the park entrance on the left. Construction makes this a little challenging. Look for our signs. The park entrance, framed by a tall chain link fence, is about 3 miles west of the Wekiva River bridge on State Road 46. Once inside the park take the first left towards the horse stables. Drive 0.7 of a mile and park on the right at the kiosk that describes the Ethel settlement.
Call the park at 407-884-2008 for additional directions. For more information on the hike, contact Weegie at weegie1021@aol.com or 407-788-2619.Join Friends of the Wekiva River at 9:00 am Saturday, February  8th, for a hike through a section of the sand pine scrub and pine flatwoods in Rock Springs Run State Reserve to the scant remains of an old cemetery.
Paul Lammardo, environmental specialist/biologist for the Wekiva River Basin State Parks, will share his knowledge of the ecology, flora and fauna in the area. He will also provide background information on the settlers of Ethel. Old grave markers are the only remaining signs of Ethel, which started in the later 1800’s with sawmills and turpentine stills. Ethel had a church with a school and a railroad flag stop. Sanford’s newspaper covered family dinners, social events, school calendars and burials that took place in this small town west of Sanford.
* The round trip hike and talk should take less than two hours. There is no charge, except for the state’s $3-per-vehicle entrance fee.
* Bring water, insect repellent, sunscreen, hat and snacks if desired.
* Rock Springs Run State Reserve is near Sorrento.  From Orlando, take I-4 to Exit 101C and travel west on State Road 46 for about 10 miles to the park entrance on the left. Construction makes this a little challenging. Look for our signs. The park entrance, framed by a tall chain link fence, is about 3 miles west of the Wekiva River bridge on State Road 46. Once inside the park take the first left towards the horse stables. Drive 0.7 of a mile and park on the right at the kiosk that describes the Ethel settlement.
Call the park at 407-884-2008 for additional directions. For more information on the hike, contact Weegie at weegie1021@aol.com or 407-788-2619.

Saturday, Jan 18 – Free spring basin tour w/experts

Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Saturday, Jan 18 – Free spring basin tour w/experts

Visit Wekiwa Springs, Rock Springs, and the hills and valleys that feed the springs.Learn about the hydrology of the springs and threats to this valuable resource. Your guides and guest speakers have a combined 75 years of resource management experience. Meet at Wekiwa Springs State Park. Tell park ranger station you are there for the tour. Reservations required as tour bus seating is limited. (407) 788-2619 or FriendsWekivaRiver@gmail.com   Reserve by Thursday.  Event: 9 a.m. – noon

Saturday, Oct. 5: Prescribed burns, wildflowers and butterflies

Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Saturday, Oct. 5: Prescribed burns, wildflowers and butterflies

Join a tram tour of Wekiva Springs State Park with a specialized team of park rangers who set controlled burns. Learn how they choose their targets, fight fire with fire, and see the results. In burned areas and beyond, enjoy colorful wildflowers and the butterflies that visit them – all lead by a landscape expert. Meet at 9 a.m. at the Wekiva Springs State Park Recreation Hall. Field trip is limited to 30 people and reservations required. Degree of difficulty: Easy. Email for reservations: weegie1021@aol.com or call 407-788-2619.