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Only a third of the job getting done to protect Wekiva waters

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The Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run have a pollution problem. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous are harming the rivers’ health. Algae is one symptom of choking ecosystems.

But there is a plan to clean up Wekiva as well as other polluted waterways throughout the state. Friends of the Wekiva River has been working to ensure cleanup efforts will be successful for Wekiva but is concerned that the state is not fully addressing the sources of this pollution.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has estimated that about a million pounds of nitrogen in the Wekiva basin enter the waters each year. And it has developed detailed estimates of where it’s coming from. The major sources include septic tanks (29%), urban fertilizers (26 %), wastewater treatment facilities (17%), farm fertilizer (11 %) and sports turf fertilizer (7 %).

In 2008, FDEP set pollution limits, which are known as Total Maximum Daily Loads, for the Wekiva River, Wekiwa Springs and Rock Springs. For science types, here are the actual numbers: The TMDL is 0.286 milligrams per liter for total nitrogen and 0.065 milligrams per liter for total phosphorus. But nitrogen concentrations in the springs range from 0.8 to 1.4 milligrams per liter – about four times higher than what’s allowed. Phosphorous concentrations are about two to three times higher than the limit. Because of these violations, the state has designated the Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run as “impaired due to total phosphorus and nitrate-nitrogen based on imbalance of aquatic flora…” (Wekiva Basin Management Action Plan, October, 2015).

The Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act of 2016 requires FDEP to take action. One of the first steps is updating plans known as Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) for all first order magnitude springs and springs of regional significance, which includes the Wekiwa.  The plans outline projects that should be done to reduce pollution. The state also must identify Priority Focus Areas for each springshed and adopt a remediation plan for on-site treatment and disposal systems (septic tanks). For the Wekiva Basin, all of these elements must be completed by July 1, 2018.

FDEP started an update to the original 2015 Wekiva River BMAP in February 2016.  For the Wekiva BMAP update, the priority areas include places within the Wekiwa springshed where the travel time of groundwater within the Upper Floridan aquifer to Wekiwa and Rock Springs is one year or less.  Rainwater can take from days to thousands of years to work its way through our underground limestone labrynth and emerge in springs and rivers.

FDEP has asked stakeholders within the Wekiva Basin to propose projects that will reduce nitrogen pollution from sources such as wastewater treatment plants, septic tanks, fertilizers, etc.  However, FDEP’s current approach does not address the entire nitrogen load to the basin.   Instead, the state is focusing only on the nitrogen discharged directly from Wekiwa and Rock Springs, approximately 300,000 pounds per year, which is less than one-third of the total nitrogen load to the Wekiva Basin.

The FOWR disagrees with FDEP’s approach and has recommended that officials revise it to address the entire nitrogen load to the basin because ntrogen entering the groundwater will eventually reach the springs.  FOWR believes that the BMAP update must identify strategies to reduce the entire load to reduce the nitrogen concentrations in the groundwater that is discharged from Wekiwa and Rock Springs.

FDEP has used the same approach in draft BMAPs for other springs.  The Florida Springs Council, which is a non-profit group composed of springs experts and advocates, has expressed concerns similar to ours. To date, FDEP has not indicated that it will change the approach. This is a disservice to the Wekiva and all Floridians. The uniqueness of our springs and rivers draws locals and tourists from around the world. Yet the state is putting our valuable environmental assets at risk. FOWR will continue working with the Florida Springs Council on strategies to persuade FDEP to change its approach and do what’s right for Florida’s environment, citizens and future generations.

GOOD NEWS: Wekiva Protections Still Strong After Interchange Threat

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GOOD NEWS: Wekiva Protections Still Strong After Interchange Threat

Friends of the Wekiva River members recently worked hard to oppose an additional interchange on the Wekiva Parkway being proposed by Lake County that would threaten the compromises made to conserve the Wekiva basin when the road was planned. The Wekiva Parkway Protection Act, which was approved by the Florida Legislature in 2004, is helping to safeguard our basin lands, waters, aquifer recharge, wildlife corridors and rural communities. The interchange proposed by Lake County threatened all of this.

A huge thank you to all of our members and friends who wrote emails and letters and made calls to help our efforts!

For those not familiar with the controversy or the history of the Wekiva Parkway, local and regional planning agencies began considering construction of a toll-road expressway surrounding metropolitan Orlando more than 40 years ago. A plan formulated in the mid-80’s proposed a segment that would travel through portions of the Wekiva basin (which consists of the Wekiva and portions of the St John’s Rivers along with their tributaries and associated lands) located in northwest Orange County, the City of Apopka, and Lake and Seminole counties. The Wekiva basin is part of a vast wildlife corridor that connects portions of Orange, Seminole and Lake counties with the Ocala National Forest.

Concerns related to expressway-associated development pressure, exacerbation of existing nutrient pollution problems in the springs and river system and potential decline in spring flow led the conservation community to rally for protective legislation related to the section of the expressway proposed to travel through the basin.

In response to these concerns, Governor Jeb Bush created the “Wekiva Basin Area Task Force” which was charged with evaluating and making recommendations concerning the most appropriate location for the portion of the expressway that would travel through the basin (which will connect SR 429 to I-4). In 2004, the Florida Legislature adopted the “Wekiva Parkway Protection Act” implementing the recommendations of the task force. The legislation requires that the 25-mile segment of the expressway to be constructed within the Wekiva basin and to be known as the “Wekiva Parkway” follow the task force design criteria.

The task force design criteria recommends, and the legislation therefore limits, the number of primary interchanges to be constructed on the Wekiva Parkway to the following three locations: Kelly Park Rd in Orange County SR 46 in Lake County I-4 /SR 417 in Seminole County The stated purpose of limited interchanges by the task force is “to assure that any proposed highway route does not result in added growth pressures within or affecting the Wekiva basin.”

Construction of the Wekiva Parkway began in 2015, and the first section completed by the Florida Department of Transportation in 2016 consisted of a 3.14-mile stretch of road located from CR 435 to SR 46. FDOT received a waiver to allow construction of temporary ramps at CR 435 to allow the public an opportunity to access and use the completed segment while the remainder of the road was being constructed. The temporary ramps are slated to be closed in 2018 once additional construction of the Wekiva Parkway is completed because they will no longer be needed at that time. The temporary ramps recently became the subject of debate because Lake County has sought to make their location an additional permanent interchange.

Lake County Commissioner Leslie Campione, who represents the district in which Mount Plymouth is located, recently began advocating that the temporary CR 435 ramp location be made into a permanent interchange because she believes that motorists traveling from Apopka seeking access to the Wekiva Parkway will cut through Mount Plymouth using CR 435 as a shortcut to the SR 46 interchange that is being constructed in Lake County. She is concerned that this potential new traffic pattern will turn the local roads of the 4,000-resident Mount Plymouth community into a “superhighway.” In response to these concerns, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners adopted a resolution on October 24, 2017 asking that the Florida Legislature authorize an additional permanent interchange at CR 435.

Because the temporary ramps were not designed to highway interchange standards, construction of a permanent interchange at the CR 435 location would not only require approval by the Florida Legislature, it would necessitate the acquisition of additional right-ofway, resulting in delay in completion of the Wekiva Parkway, and the accrual of additional construction costs that could exceed $20 million.

When news of Lake County’s plans became public, the City of Apopka passed a resolution on October 14, 2017 opposing the additional permanent interchange and urging any governmental entity that might consider the idea to firmly reject it. The Orange County Board of County Commissioners also discussed the topic at its November 14, 2017 meeting and declined to support a resolution making the CR 435 ramp location a permanent interchange. Although the Seminole County Board of County Commissioners has not formally considered the matter at one of its meetings, Commissioner and former State Senator Lee Constantine has vowed to fight against the additional interchange on the basis that any such construction would violate the public trust.

The area in question is located in Orange County and sits on the edge of the Wekiva River watershed that feeds dozens of lakes, springs and the Wekiva River. Charles Lee of the Florida Audubon Society has informed various governmental boards considering Lake County’s proposal that the task force specifically determined that an interchange at CR 435 would not be viable from an environmental standpoint. Historically, interchanges are magnets for development, and no community over time is capable of preventing the impact of traffic and land values from causing increases to denser land uses.

Commissioner Campione made a presentation requesting support for the CR 435 permanent interchange at the Central Florida Expressway Authority meeting conducted on December 14, 2017, and the proposal was soundly rejected. As part of the discussion by members of the Authority, the Lake County Commission representative who sits on the Authority made a public announcement that Lake County has decided to pursue funding for traffic calming measures on CR 435 instead of the additional permanent interchange. The traffic calming measures will consist of a series of round-abouts costing in excess of $1 million.

Lake County’s newly-announced plans to pursue an alternative to the additional permanent interchange at CR 435 is good news, but we must remain vigilant to ensure that the protections afforded by the Wekiva River Protection Act always remain in place. These protections underpin the very foundation of our community – the land and water that we rely on and hope to leave in pristine condition for generations to come.

Go Wild!

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Wilderness Experiences

Go Wild!

Wilderness experiences are good for the mind, body and soul.

By Jay Exum

Jay is a featured columnist on environmental issues for 2017 editions of Seminole Magazine.

Wilderness. The very word conjures mixed emotions, particularly in our ever-urbanizing world. Is the term positive? Does it connote a place where you would go to experience a variety of wildlife, exquisite natural scenery and true peace? Or is frightening? Is the idea of exploring a wilderness area so inherently dangerous, so remote, so unrelatable that you wouldn’t consider it without a satellite phone and an emergency support team?

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Rock Springs Run

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Rock Springs Run

Paddling Rock Springs Run to Wekiwa Springs State Park, immersed in the essence of a spring-fed river

By Jay Exum

Jay is a featured columnist on environmental issues for 2017 editions of Seminole Magazine.

It is particularly alluring for an ecologist to float Rock Springs Run, a flow-way that is an integral part of the Wekiva river system. But you don’t need to be an expert in water quality or wildlife habitat to be enthralled by the beauty you’ll encounter on a canoe trip along this invaluable central Florida waterway. The experience is wonderful in and of itself—with its clear waters, constant flow and picturesque scenery—but there is even more substance than style in the 5-hour jaunt to Wekiwa Springs State Park or the privately owned Wekiva Island. This stretch is powered by the clear, spring-fed flow from Rock Springs, and it courses through mature forested canopies on state-owned land managed for native biological diversity.

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Bears in the Neighborhood

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Bears in the Neighborhood

The black bear’s remarkable resurgence in Florida has caused challenges for Seminole County homeowners.

By Jay Exum

Jay is a featured columnist on environmental issues for 2017 editions of Seminole Magazine.

The Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) has probably been the subject of more conversations, controversies, protests and political discussions in the last 5 years than in the previous 200. The bear is an iconic animal: on the one hand feared as a vicious predator, and on the other hand, the mascot of a sluggish economy. Bears are enigmatic in that they epitomize wildness and serve as a keystone species for mature, interconnected, natural landscapes. But, as we know from extensive news coverage over the last 5 years, particularly here in Seminole County, bears have infiltrated some of our neighborhoods, trespassed in our garages and, unfortunately, attacked people and dogs.

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Central Florida’s Version of Winter is Upon Us

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What’s going on in the Woods of the Wekiva? January, 2016 edition

Central Florida’s version of winter is upon us. Like the other seasons, there are plenty of signs that winter is here, but this winter is not necessarily evident in colder temperatures and low humidity with no precipitation. In fact, we have mostly experienced just the opposite during this winter.

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25th Annual Wekiva Christmas Bird Count, Saturday December 19th

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What’s going on in the Woods of the Wekiva? November, 2015 edition

25th Annual Wekiva Christmas Bird Count, Saturday December 19th – I’m going to devote the next two monthly articles to the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC). For this month, a little history and some encouragement for everyone interested in the natural environment in the Wekiva basin to participate in this year’s count. Next month, I will summarize some of the details of the Wekiva CBC – scheduled for Saturday December 19th.

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Yes, there is a fall season in Florida

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What’s going on in the Woods of the Wekiva? October, 2015 edition

Yes Irene, there is a fall season in Florida. Every year, my wife, Irene and I debate whether there is actually a fall season in Florida or whether it is mythical or a delusional state that I solely enjoy. Here in late October we are finally enjoying a break in temperature, and a slow-down in thundershowers and rainy afternoons that accompany summer weather patterns. However, for some people, cooling down to a daytime high of only 86° does not constitute a fall season. So, I have compiled a list of changes that are occurring that I hope will be a compelling argument for the wonderful nuances of fall in central Florida. For example:

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Summer rains and wetland hydrology

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What’s going on in the Woods of the Wekiva? September, 2015 edition

Summer rains and wetland hydrology – Over the last 2 to 3 months we’ve had expected deluges from summer rains and weather patterns associated with tropical storms. One group of vertebrates that particularly “anticipates” the relatively regular rains of Florida summers are the Anurans – the taxonomic Order that includes frogs and toads. I’m fond of spending early evenings near marshes and swamps listening to the calls of various species of frogs and toads.

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