Scott wants $55M for springs

In this June 15, 2013 file photo, a group of striped mullet swim through the grasses at the tube launch on the Ichetucknee River at Ichetucknee State Park in Fort White, Fla.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 5:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 5:35 p.m.

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday said he is putting $55 million for springs restoration and protection into his proposed 2014-2015 budget. It remains uncertain whether any North Central Florida springs would be on the list to benefit if the Legislature honors Scott's plan.

Patrick Gillespie, spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said the money would go to his agency, which would then work with Florida's five water management districts in deciding how the funds should be spent.

"There is no set of projects right now (that are earmarked to receive any of the $55 million)," Gillespie said.

But DEP and the governor's office do prefer to spend on shovel-ready projects that promise strong and quick springs improvement, Gillespie said. For example, projects to improve wastewater treatment plants and upgrade stormwater runoff systems are effective because such work helps keep tainted water from ever getting into springs.

"These are the kinds of projects we like to invest in," he said.

The $55 million would be a significant jump compared to a year ago, when Scott earmarked $10 million specifically for springs protection. Last year DEP created partnerships with the water districts that resulted in an additional $27 million for springs protection.

Gillespie said that last year Silver Springs in Marion County was a significant target of springs restoration money, and that the spring remains a priority.

"(But) I don't know how it's going to roll," he said of the proposed spending.

Scott made Tuesday's announcement during an awards ceremony in Tallahassee celebrating 125 employees selected as DEP's top environmental stewards.

"This investment will enable state and local partners to protect the quality and quantity of water that flows from our springs. These springs are important not only to animal and plant life, but also add to Florida's ever-expanding tourism industry," Scott said, according to a press statement.

Several springs and waterways in Marion and Alachua counties have significantly diminished flows, and unhealthy levels of unwanted, polluting nutrients that damage plant and wildlife.

Silver Springs' unwanted nitrogen level is several times higher than 50 years ago. Rainbow Springs' flow has decreased an estimated 25 percent since the 1960s, say some environmentalists.

Poe Springs in Alachua County has experienced a 30 percent flow decrease and, in 2012, went dry for a time.

Some predict Silver Springs could go dry in a dozen years.

In a press release, Scott's office said that $25 million of the $55 million will be put toward "alternative water supply development in critical springs areas … to help protect spring flow."

"If you care about Florida's springs, Governor Scott's funding announcement should have you very happy," said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. in the release.

John Moran, co-director of the Springs Eternal Project, told the News Service of Florida that the state's springs problems "cannot be fixed just by throwing a few million dollars at the problem."

He added: "We must stop over pumping the aquifer, and we must stop pollution at its source."

"The issues plaguing our springs are largely the same issues afflicting waters from the St. Johns River to Lake Okeechobee and the Indian River Lagoon," Moran said. "The condition of our springs and rivers and lakes and coasts is a growing public health threat, a deepening environmental crisis and a looming economic disaster."

Contact Fred Hiers at 867-4157 or

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