Robert L. Knight: The River of Denial
Published: Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 10:52 p.m.
‘The longest river in Florida is the River of Denial that runs through Tallahassee” (a quote from John Moran, concerning the state's claim that they are “Getting the water right,” at the Speak-up for Silver Springs Rally on June 23).
Yet, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) continues to deny that our springs and spring-fed rivers are becoming more and more degraded due to alarmingly high concentrations of nitrogen and declining flow conditions. It is time that the FDEP acknowledges the severe degradation that has inflicted harm upon these natural resources and makes implementing real solutions a top priority.
Award-winning author and investigative reporter Craig Pittman, at the Tampa Bay Times, got it right when he wrote “Florida's Vanishing Springs” on Nov. 23. Declining flows and increasing nitrate nitrogen contamination aren't just limited to a few springs, but are a serious issue in more than two-thirds of North Florida's 1,000-plus iconic springs.
These springs, and the rivers and estuaries they support, provide extensive benefits to Florida's economy, both past and present. However, local economies are continuing to suffer as a result of drying and polluted springs throughout North and Central Florida.
In spite of the clear trend of declining health at most of Florida's springs over the past 50 years and the dozens of springs officially added to their Impaired Waters List, the FDEP decided to “set the record straight” in their response to Craig Pittman's carefully researched springs investigative report. The FDEP took offense to Craig's accurate claim that the department discontinued its 10-year Florida's Springs Initiative in 2011.
The final work products of the Florida Springs Initiative were intended to be stakeholder-led restoration plans for four of Florida's most valuable and famous springs: Silver, Rainbow, Wakulla and Ichetucknee. The draft restoration efforts for these springs detailed how nitrate nitrogen, a recognized pollutant, has leached into the state's groundwater from fertilizers and wastewaters.
When the contaminated groundwater inevitably reaches and discharges at the springs, the dissolved nitrate in the water stimulates noxious algal growth, a visible indicator of surface water pollution. The mass of nitrate currently discharged from just these four springs is about 2,500 tons per year, an estimated increase of more than 1,200 percent in the past 50 years.
The sources for a substantial amount of the nitrogen pollution in the groundwater include agricultural, industrial and urban development practices that are regulated by state water managers.
In its news release, FDEP “set the record straight” by announcing that it intends to fund about $3 million for projects to reduce nitrate loads in the Santa Fe, Silver and King's Bay springsheds. This amount of funding is only a drop in the bucket considering that the residents of Tallahassee are currently spending more than $200 million to decrease the nitrate loading and biological impairments to just one spring — Wakulla. These impacts have been apparent to the FDEP and a source of public concern for more than two decades.
A recent analysis by the Florida Springs Institute indicates that nearly one third of the groundwater under the entire state of Florida has nitrate concentrations that exceed the state's target concentration for springs.
In light of all of the existing studies, including those conducted by the FDEP, it is time that our environmental protection leaders in Tallahassee stop the denial and acknowledge that the water is not right in our springs and spring-fed rivers. The water in Florida's springs is polluted and the water quantity is diminished. The scientific data support the visible observations that noxious algae are replacing what used to be diverse and healthy underwater plant communities. And other biological changes also substantiate the severe degradation in springs that is continuing to worsen.
In the name of public interest, it is time that that FDEP and other state agencies implement projects and permit restrictions that substantially reverse these disturbing environmental trends. These problems will continue as long as our decision makers allow a few special interests to profit at the sake of our water supply and environmental quality.
It is time for the FDEP to truly set the record straight on their environmental stewardship. Because, when the water is right in our springs, then we can rest assured that we have clean and abundant drinking water in the aquifer — a necessity for all Floridians.
Robert L. Knight is director of the Florida Springs Institute, a private, non-profit program dedicated to springs science and conservation.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.