John Moran: Reclaiming our springs
Published: Sunday, December 29, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 27, 2013 at 5:17 p.m.
2014 just might go down as the year in which rising public concern over the declining health of our springs finally reaches critical mass.
The Sun’s recent Fragile Springs series has certainly helped to elevate the conversation about water and Florida’s future to its rightful place at center stage. Day after day, the stories drove home two points: Our fabulous springs are in a world of hurt. And we are failing the test to preserve and protect our priceless blue-water gems.
Language structures any debate, so let’s be clear: It’s simply inaccurate to say that our springs are dying. Dying is what happens when old trees fall down in the forest. That’s the cycle of nature.
But “dying” is too soft a word to describe what’s happening to our springs. The reality is that we are killing our springs. The fact that none of us wanted this to happen doesn’t excuse our responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
The desecration of our springs is no accident; this is negligent homicide. As with the drunken driver who meant to cause no harm, crying “Oops!” is no defense to this crime against nature.
Massive groundwater overpumping and nutrient pollution are the culprits, compounded by gross regulatory neglect. For more than 20 years, a growing chorus of scientists and journalists and artists and springs-loving Floridians of every stripe has sounded the alarm that our springs are imperiled and in danger of collapse.
The message is finally getting through. A bipartisan band of concerned senators has drafted a bill that begins to correct the neglect that has masqueraded as legislative oversight in recent years. The bill is a fluid work in progress but this much is clear: What ails our springs cannot be corrected by throwing a few million dollars at the problem. We must stop overpumping the aquifer. And we must stop pollution at its source.
But as surely as the sun comes rising in the east, the pushback is in full swing. A wide-ranging consortium of business leaders — including developers, farmers and fertilizer suppliers — have predictably responded with “not so fast.”
Many are the same folks who once insisted that “we don’t have a problem,” before switching gears to “we can’t afford to fix this.” Now they claim “we need more studies so that sound science” can point the way, a tired argument which echoes the tobacco industry’s deny-and-delay response to the surgeon general’s 1964 report linking smoking to cancer.
Come on, Florida. If that’s the best we can do, why don’t we just be honest with ourselves and each other and admit that we’re really only interested in fixing our springs if it’s convenient and painless to do so.
And while we’re at it, why don’t we gather our children and grandchildren and confess this dirty little secret: They deserve no better than to inherit a state in which our pristine springs, running clear and blue, can be found only in old pictures and fading memories. For that is surely the message we’ve conveyed in deed, if not in word.
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, Floridians increasingly have concluded that our state agencies — formerly national models of wise water governance — are now engaged in an elaborate charade to create the illusion of environmental protection.
Think about it. “Protection” means to safeguard from injury or harm. If the springs were our children, the Department of Children and Families would long ago have acted to place them in the care of responsible adults.
If you find these words extreme, you’d do well to visit the Florida Museum of Natural History. Spend some time there with the Springs Eternal exhibit, which chronicles the stunning decline of our springs over the past 30 years. Listen to the pictures. And then listen to your heart.
What we have here in Florida is a failure of imagination and a poverty of spirit that has enabled a system of governance that seemingly knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing. We’ve done nothing to deserve the gift of these pools of stunning blue wonder — the finest springs the world has ever known. And our only charge was to find a way to not screw it up.
Here’s a New Year’s resolution we can all get behind: Our springs are world-class treasures, and they deserve world-class protection. If you believe this to be true then Tallahassee needs to hear from you, because you can be sure our legislators are getting an earful from powerful polluters who value their private profits more than our public waters.
The future of our springs depends on public advocacy. We can no longer afford to buy the false dichotomy that would have us choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment, for the former will surely wither and die without the latter. Nothing less than the soul of Florida hangs in the balance. And that is a message we can take to heart as we resolve to make tomorrow a better day in Florida.
John Moran and Lesley Gamble are the creators of the Springs Eternal Project, which will be at the Florida Museum of Natural History through Jan. 5 before moving on to other venues. Learn more at SpringsEternalProject.org.