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

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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.

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

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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

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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.

State’s Plan to Protect Wekiwa & Rock Springs Won’t Work!

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July 21, 2019

Wekiwa and Rock Springs have a pollution problem. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous are causing excessive growth of algae and other undesirable plant species, such as hydrilla, in the Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run, threatening food sources and habitat for fish. 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) developed a plan to reduce the nitrogen load to Wekiwa and Rock Springs. However, the Friends of the Wekiva River (FOWR) believes that the state’s plan does not fully address the sources of this pollution, and has challenged the plan. Plans for other springs are also under scrutiny. So FOWR, along with a number of other environmental groups across the state, are taking their case to a state hearing in September. We’ll keep you updated on our website (www.FriendsofWekiva.org) and Facebook page and let you know how you can help. Details about donations are below.  

The Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act of 2016 required FDEP to develop plans known as Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) for first order magnitude springs and springs of regional significance, which include Wekiwa and Rock Springs.  The BMAP for Wekiwa and Rock Springs was adopted by FDEP in June 2018. 

The BMAP estimated that about a million pounds of nitrogen enter the groundwater in the Wekiwa and Rock Springs springshed each year. The major sources include septic tanks (29%), urban turfgrass fertilizers (26 %), wastewater treatment facilities (17%), farm fertilizer (11 %), and sports turf fertilizer (7 %). 

The nitrogen concentrations in the springs range from 0.8 to 1.4 milligrams per liter – about four times higher than is considered safe. And phosphorous concentrations are about two to three times higher than the limit. In 2008, because of these high nutrient levels, FDEP designated the Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run as “impaired.” 

During development of the BMAP, FOWR provided numerous comments to FDEP to address the plan’s weaknesses. FOWR’s main concern is that the BMAP does not address the entire nitrogen load to the springshed.   Instead the plan proposes to only reduce nitrogen loads by about 200,000 pounds per year, which is only about 20% of the total nitrogen load to the springshed.  

Also, the BMAP does not account for future nitrogen loads from new residential and commercial development in the springshed.  The plan will also allow new septic tanks to be installed during at least the next five years.  And the plan only recommends reducing nitrogen from fertilizers by 6-10%!

FOWR believes that the BMAP must identify strategies to reduce the entire nitrogen load to reduce the nitrogen concentrations in the groundwater that reaches Wekiwa and Rock Springs.

As we approach the September hearing, FOWR is working hard and incurring expenses, including for experts who can show the need for improving the plans. As you can imagine, this is a costly effort.  We would appreciate any support you could give us.  Just go to the home page of our website (www.FriendsofWekiva.org) and click on the “DONATE” button.  

We cannot afford to let these precious jewels become over-run with algae!  Please help today! 

State Plan Falls Far Short of Solving Wekiva’s Pollution Problems

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Two of Central Florida’s crown jewels, Wekiwa and Rock Springs, are in danger, and a plan meant to save them is woefully insufficient.

It is well known that both springs, as well as Rock Springs Run and the Wekiva River, are suffering from high levels of nitrates and phosphorus that are causing an imbalance in the aquatic plant and animal communities, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

These nutrients have led to growth of nuisance algae and other undesirable aquatic species that are choking out vegetation that fish and other wildlife need to live.

In 2008, FDEP determined that nitrate concentrations should be less than 0.286 milligrams per liter to protect the water quality of the two springs and their runs. But the nitrate levels in Wekiwa Springs average about 3 to 4 times higher. In Rock Springs, the nitrate concentration is even higher, averaging between 4 to 5 times what DEP says it should be.

In 2016, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act which requires development of plans to protect water quality in outstanding Florida springs. These are called Basin Management Action Plans or BMAPs. The Act requires that FDEP develop strategies to reduce pollutants so that the water quality in the springs and their runs will meet the required nitrogen levels.

FDEP recently issued the draft Wekiwa Spring and Rock Springs BMAP, which identifies fertilizers and septic tanks within the Wekiva Basin as the major contributors of nitrogen to groundwater that reaches Wekiwa and Rock Springs. The BMAP estimated that approximately one million pounds of nitrogen reach the groundwater within the Wekiva Basin each year. Of that total, approximately 29% comes from septic tanks, 26% from urban turfgrass fertilizer, another 23% from sports turf fertilizer, agriculture and livestock wastes, and about 16% from wastewater treatment plants.

The draft BMAP is set to be finalized this summer. But it recommends that nitrogen loads to groundwater within the Wekiva Basin be reduced by only about 20 percent. – certainly not sufficient to reduce the nitrogen concentrations in the springs by more than the needed 70 – 80 percent. The Friends of the Wekiva River believe that the draft BMAP must provide more specific requirements for reducing nitrogen loads to groundwater from septic tanks, fertilizers and wastewater treatment facilities by at least 80 percent.

Drilling Down on Septic Tanks

The draft BMAP would allow new septic tanks to be installed within an area designated as the Wekiva Basin Priority Focus Area – if the permit applicant can demonstrate that “sewer connection will be available within 5 years.” (Note: the draft BMAP does not specify that connection to the sewer is required, only that sewer be available). Existing septic tanks within the Priority Focus Area on lots less than an acre would be required to be either connected to a sewer system or upgraded to provide “enhanced” nitrogen removal within 20 years from the date of the BMAP adoption.

Friends of the Wekiva River urged FDEP to prohibit any new conventional septic tanks within the Priority Focus Area to prevent any additional nitrogen loads to groundwater. The Friends also urged FDEP to require “high level nitrogen removal” (removing at least 90% of the nitrogen in septic tank effluent) for new septic tanks and existing septic tanks where sewers cannot be installed within the next 15 years.

The Friends also believe that local utilities should undertake sewer construction projects within the Priority Focus Area to eliminate septic tanks in places where groundwater is vulnerable to nitrogen pollution, as identified by the Florida Geologic Survey. The Friends believe that Orange and Seminole counties and Apopka should extend sewer service to existing homes within the areas designated by the FGS as vulnerable and more vulnerable to groundwater contamination.

Spreading the News on Fertilizers

The Friends believe that the draft BMAP should require limits on fertilizer use within the springshed. At a minimum, the draft BMAP should include the following recommendations: Allow only slow-release organic nitrogen fertilizers to be sold within Orange, Seminole and Lake counties; prohibit fertilizer application during the rainy season; ban fertilizer sales within the three-county area during the summer months; establish application rates for lawns in residential and commercial areas; prohibit fertilizer application within 10 feet of water bodies, ponds, wetlands or sinkholes; make local code enforcement officials responsible for enforcing fertilizer ordinances; enforce limits on disposal of grass clippings and debris; and require public education programs on fertilization within the three counties.

Breaking Down the Flow of Wastewater Treatment Facilities

The Springs and Aquifer Protection Act prohibits new wastewater treatment facilities with permitted capacities greater than 100,000 gallons per day within the Priority Focus Area, unless the facilities reduce nitrogen in their effluent to 3 milligrams per liter or less. The Friends recommend that no new treatment facilities of any size be permitted within the springshed. Further, the Friends recommends that all existing wastewater treatment facilities in the springshed using percolation ponds or rapid infiltration basins – both of which allow wastewater to slowly seep into the ground — should be connected to sewer or provide treatment to limit effluent nitrogen concentrations to 3 milligrams per liter or less.

What Must Be Done to Save Wekiwa

The Friends are deeply concerned the draft BMAP recommendations won’t meet FDEP’s nutrient criteria for Wekiwa and Rock Springs. The Friends believe that more stringent limits on discharges of nitrogen from new and existing septic tanks and more stringent limits on use of fertilizers and wastewater treatment facilities are needed. The FDEP should rethink these issues before the plan becomes final and step up for Florida’s future.

FDEP has already committed $50 million per year for springs restoration statewide. The Friends recognize that even more money will be needed to get the job done. The Friends will work with our FDEP and our elected representatives toward obtaining more funding so that the Legislature’s goal of restoring our springs can be met within the 20-year goal.

Cleaning up our springs will take collaboration, cooperation, concessions and additional funding. But if we don’t act now, future generations could be robbed of the crown jewels we failed to protect.

*Please note that Friends of the Wekiva River are asking for donations to help fund a formal challenge to the state plan. Donations can be made via the Pay Pal link and noting the word “Challenge” in the notes section via our website www.friendsofwekiva.org

 

FOWR Receives Grindle Foundation Grant

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Friends of the Wekiva River recently applied for, and received, from the Art and Phyllis Grindle Foundation a generous $4,980 grant to fund the continuation of an investigation of the filamentous blue-green algae, Lyngbya wollei, found in the Wekiva River basin. This algae has been a source of concern due to the rise in nutrient levels in the Wekiva River that have increased significantly over the years. Nitrogen and phosphorus are two nutrients of concern in the Wekiva River stemming from sources such as septic tanks, wastewater treatment facilities, and urban, farm and sports turf fertilizers from lands within the Wekiva basin. The proliferation of algae and exotic plants is a result of nutrient enrichment and can have the effect of choking out beneficial native plant species.

In 2008, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection set pollution limits for nitrogen and phosphorus in the Wekiva River system as part of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program. Data from numerous sources, including a 1998-2000 Lyngbya algae study, also funded by FOWR, was used by scientists who helped develop the TMDL criteria for the Wekiva River. These determinations, in turn, set the stage for other programs aimed at reducing nutrient impacts to the Wekiva River.

Receipt of the $4,980 grant will allow FOWR to provide a stipend for a Wekiva River Aquatic Preserve Intern to continue a study of the algae commenced and funded by FOWR in 2017 and to add additional stations in order to more closely replicate the original 1998-2000 study. The results will provide a better opportunity for comparison of recent and past data to determine whether an increase or decrease in algae biomass has occurred. Several key strategies aimed at reducing nutrient inputs to the Wekiva system have been in place for many years. The results of the new algae study made possible by the Grindle Foundation grant, in addition to review of water quality trend analysis, can help determine whether those strategies are working.

Many thanks to the Art and Phyllis Grindle Foundation for its generosity in making this very important work possible !!

Magical moments on our hike to find hidden springs

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Our discovery of hidden springs revealed some magical moments. Thanks to everyone who attended!
Here's a report from leader Jay Exum:
FOWR Ecology Field Course #6:
Hidden Springs of Seminole State Forest

On June 3, about 30 participants in the Friends of the Wekiva River’s sixth and final ecology field course trekked across Seminole State Forest in search of “hidden springs”. These diminutive, Magnitude 4 or 5 springs still emanate from relatively unaltered natural lands and provide much of the surface flow for Sulfur Run, a tributary to Blackwater Creek.

All these springs occur in the Wekiva basin springshed and are protected within the 25,000-acre Seminole State Forest in the Wekiva to Ocala corridor. On the Forest, management is focused on restoring the historical biological diversity of scrub and sandhill habitats. Preservation of these habitats, characterized by extremely high recharge into the Floridan aquifer, has also protected the springshed for the springs that we visited during our day in the field.

The springs occur in an area referred to as Sulfur Island, a 60-foot uprising of well-drained soils underlain by limestone. At the spring vents, groundwater is forced out of these karst formations by underground pressure. The springs bubble up at the surface and form a continuous flow of clear, low nutrient water. We visited Helene, Markee, Boulder, Shark Tooth and Palm Springs. Palm Springs was dammed by previous private landowners to provide a deeper swimming hole. After acquisition, the state removed the dam to return the spring to its natural topography and hydrology. We admired the success of these restoration efforts, and the recovery of native vegetation along the slopes of the spring. Helene Springs sits in a veritable oasis of hydric hammock under a mature canopy of bald cypress, tupelo gum, water oak, sweetbay magnolia and tuliptrees that provided a cool (albeit humid) break from the adjacent longleaf pine flatwoods. Boulder, Markee and Shark Tooth Springs emerge from sandhill and scrub communities and their relatively steep slopes provided an interesting transition from sand pine scrub across longleaf pine sandhills into the wetland community created by the springs.

This field trip allowed us the opportunity to review the information learned during previous field courses. We discussed the diversity of frogs in wetlands systems across Seminole forest, the need for fire to maintain most of the upland communities in the Wekiva basin and the unique attributes of the ecological communities that we visited during the last year. Hopefully, the FOWR field course provided a primer for some, and deeper insight for others into the benefits and beauty of natural systems in the Wekiva basin.

Ecology on the Wekiva

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Aquatic Ecology on Rock Springs Run

 

Our fifth installment of the Friends of the Wekiva River ecology field course series related to aquatic ecology. We paddled portions of Rock Springs Run on Saturday, April 19. Recent rainfall required us to reschedule, and then modify the trip, but this portion of the Wild and Scenic River system did not disappoint. We discussed Rock Springs, a second order magnitude spring, and the contribution its 40 million gallons per day provides to the surface waters of Rock Springs Run. We discussed changes in water quality at the spring and the surface waters along the Run over the last few decades and measures that can be taken to improve them. We took special note of the plants that were flowering during this spring trip. We saw bulltongue, hemlock, pickerelweed, buttonbush, spider lily, sweetbay, spatterdock and other showy flowers during our 4-mile canoe trip. We also noted flower of less conspicuous species such as cattail, rushes, beakrushes, sedges and sawgrass. We discussed the forested floodplain associated with the Wekiva River system and its importance to migratory birds. I mentioned the various warbler species that were observed migrating through central Florida over the last month, and we noted migratory species that had now arrived and will breed here. Birds that we observed or heard included pileated woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, Carolina wren, tufted titmouse, red-eyed vireo, white ibis, little blue heron, great egret, tri-colored heron, and a female wood duck with chicks. The rain held off for just long enough for us to finish our paddle, first through the Emerald Cuttowards Rock Springs, and then downstream a couple

 

of miles along Rock Springs Run. We felt the difference between paddling upstream against the powerful flows of a second order of magnitude spring, and the benefit of allowing it to push us downstream. This section of the Wekiva Wild and Scenic River is one of the most scenic with clear water; native, mature forested canopy; and spectacular native wildflowers. Thanks to all that participated - we hope you will continue to enjoy the river and work to sustain its values.

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.

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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