Let’s Save our Springs: The 2022 Springs Summit in Crystal River
“Our pictures are a tangible record of what was,” outdoor photographer John Moran told the audience at the 2022 Florida Springs Council Springs Summit. Images of sapphire springs and lush seagrass beds bounced across the screen behind him. His “Then and Now” slideshow of photos of Florida’s springs told a visual story of the environmental deterioration that has plagued this important natural resource through time. Healthy green eelgrass turned to brown mush. Crystal-clear water turned to murky, and algae ridden.
80% of Florida’s springs are imperiled due to elevated levels of nutrients and excessive groundwater pumping.
These springs are a window into our groundwater, which comes from Florida’s amazing underground aquifer. The Florida aquifer is the source of drinking water for 97% of Florida’s population, making the plight of Florida’s natural springs relevant to all.
To address this matter, the Florida Springs Council brought springs advocates, scientists, lawmakers, communicators and springs supporters together for its annual Springs Summit April 8-10 at the Plantation Resort in Crystal River.
The conference kicked off with a screening of the Emmy-winning “The Fellowship of the Springs” documentary by Oscar Corral. Images are more powerful than words and this film portrays the beautiful but troubled springs that set the mood for the conference.
Supporting Florida’s Springs Through Advocacy
Saturday’s conference attendees were greeted by Casey Fitzgerald, president of the Florida Springs Council, followed by a panel discussion of Springs Policy and Law with Senator David Williams, former state senator, sponsor of Springs & Aquifer Protection Act; Dr. Bob Knight Director of the Florida Springs Institute; Doug MacLaughlin, FSC attorney, retired SFWMD attorney and William Kerr, former SJRWMD Governing Board Chairman. Moderated by Dr. Bob Palmer, retired, Staff Director for the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the U. S. House of Representatives, the panelists answered questions regarding current and past legislation about the laws governing the springs.
The Florida legislature has allotted $50 million dollars in its annual budget since 2016 for the protection of Florida’s springs, but with the exploding population and resulting higher demands for water and excessive nutrient loads are putting a strain on the springs and Florida’s aquifer. Changing legislation takes time and money, with often little or no tangible results.
During the Springs Advocacy Bootcamp session, FSC executive director Ryan Smart explained the sources of pollution affecting the water quality of our springs: septic systems, drainage wells, urban fertilizer and agriculture. The reduced flow from the springs is due to less rainfall and increased pumping of groundwater.
More than 8 billion gallons of groundwater is pumped from the aquifer daily, and there simply isn’t enough rainfall to replenish the source. This imbalance of nature has negative effects such as reduction of spring outputs, increase of sinkholes and even the death of some springs, such as Kissingen and White Springs.
It Starts with Science
Improving the water quality of springs starts from observation and finding what works best in a given area. Dr. Bob Knight, Greg Owen and Rick Copeland discussed the science of the springs, including projects such as private well monitoring for nitrates in the Lower Santa Fe River and springs data collection results.
Water quality findings and results of springs projects are available on the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute website at https://floridaspringsinstitute.org/
Changing Attitudes and Saving Lands
Reporter and communications director Angela Bradbery talked about ways to change attitudes by framing dialogue in communications for springs advocacy while Michael McGrath and Cris Costello of the Sierra Club Florida addressed the importance of grassroots efforts for change.
Using Photography and Social Media to Bring Springs Awareness
Springs advocacy and awareness can be promoted by education through social media, as shown by educator Kelly De Valle of @thespringstate, but sometimes promotion can be detrimental as well. Viral media posts of beautiful locations have drawn crowds to once quiet areas. Yes, it is good for businesses, but also detrimental to a wild environment. Not using geo-tagging (giving the location) can help to keep natural ecosystems intact.
Professional mermaid Michelle Colson promotes springs activism and awareness through her social media channels and podcasting.
Manatees and Clean Springs
The death tolls of manatees have been increasing from starvation in the past few years. Because manatees feed on aquatic plants and the increase of poor water quality has led to plant kills, which leads to excessive algae blooms, ultimately resulting in manatee starvation. The restoration of our springs water-quality is vital to the survival of Florida’s manatees.
The Eelgrass Restoration Project in Crystal River by SWFWMD and Save Crystal River brought the local community together in education and action to the plight of the manatees and improving the water quality of Kings Bay, a successful project which has spurred the Homosassa River Restoration project and others throughout Florida.
The Save the Manatee Club is holding a webinar on Manatee and the Springs this April 26, 2022, at 7pm. Register for the webinar or sign up for local seagrass planting projects, river clean-ups or restoration events at https://www.savethemanatee.org/news/calendar/
The Florida Springs Council’s Saturday evening awards banquet, The Florida Springs Council Advocate of the Year Award was presented to Margaret Spontak for her outstanding efforts with the Free the Ocklawaha River Coalition and Dr. Bob Knight received the Florida Lake Management Society’s Scott Driver Award for his work with the Florida Springs Institute, promoting the restoration, protection and appreciation of Florida’s aquatic resources. Our Santa Fe River (OSFR) received the FSC Organization of the Year Award, accepted by organization co-founder Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson.
Campaigning for Change
Advocate campaign stories and strategies were shared by Burt Eno of Rainbow River Conservation, Margaret Spontak of Free the Ocklawaha River Coalition, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson OSFR and Cris Costello of the Sierra Club Florida.
Florida’s springs are in trouble, but a light of hope remains through the success stories from the dedicated springs advocates. Action, not apathy is needed, and you can take a part in the springs restoration efforts through some simple, effective actions:
- Turn off those irrigation systems and water by hand-held hose instead.
- Get a rain barrel or cistern and use it as an irrigation source.
- Plant a native-friendly landscape with drought-resistant Florida-friendly plants.
- Use mulch around plants to prevent moisture evaporation.
- Stop using fertilizers. Switch to organic compost.
- Get active with a water group that represents what you care about most, be it Save the Manatees, the Sierra Club, Florida Springs Institute, or a waterkeeper/local friends of a river group.