DEP warns that Florida springs are being degraded

A Florida Department of Environmental Protection official on Wednesday warned a Senate panel that waiting to protect Florida’s springs could cost more in the long run.

The Select Committee on Florida’s Inland Waters is working on consensus legislation to protect springs, said Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs and committee chairman.

Springs across the state have become choked in recent years with weeds and algae as nitrogen levels in groundwater have increased. Potential sources of nitrogen include fertilizers, septic tanks, stormwater runoff and industrial and sewage treatment plants.

Jerry Brooks, director of DEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, said the technology that would be needed to precisely determine how much pollution each source is contributing to problems at individual springs is not available and won’t be in the foreseeable future.

“If we choose to wait until we have that level of precision, I tell you we will have lost that resource or we will be faced with a huge cost that is associated with remediating that resource,” Brooks said.

DEP, he said, has worked with interest groups and stakeholders in regions to identify sources of pollution and practices that will protect groundwater.

His comments followed a presentation by David Still, executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District on the need to also protect the quantity of water flowing from springs. White Sulphur Springs along the Suwannee River was a tourist attraction in the early 1900s before it quit flowing in the 1970s.

Still said his district, because of lack of money, has halted work to identify the minimum amounts of water to keep springs flowing in the Suwannee region. But he said those springs and groundwater are important to the economies, heritage and agriculture of the region.

“We can’t stand by and let those springs dry up,” Still said. “If I have to come (tell you) every week or every month how important those springs are, we’ll do it.”

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, noted that money provided for alternative water projects has been cut out of the state budget in recent years. In 2005, she sponsored SB 444, which provided $100 million of state money that was matched with $400 million from other governments.

“When we cut the funding from SB 444, it was the worst budget decision I’ve witnessed in my 13 years in the Legislature,” she said.

The Select Committee on Florida’s Inland Waters meets again Jan. 25 in Lake Mary, Feb. 2 at Wakulla Springs State Park near Tallahassee, Feb. 12 in Palatka, Feb. 22 in Punta Gorda and Feb. 25 (tentative) in Gainesville.

(Photo courtesy of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)