July 8, 2012
Springs are among Florida's most renowned environmental treasures — fonts of crystal clear water, oases for animals and plants, year-round playgrounds for swimmers and divers from across the state and around the world.
But Florida's springs are dying. Less water is flowing, due in part to overpumping from their underground water supply to feed the development beast
They are increasingly slimed by algae and weeds, fed by nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients contained in the run-off from storm drains, fertilized lawns and septic tanks.
At the iconic Silver Springs near Ocala, famed for its glass-bottom boats, the flow has dropped by at least half since 2000, this year reaching its lowest level ever. Algae tints the water green and weeds cover most of the white sandy bottom.
This is an emerging environmental disaster. And an economic one. A state-commissioned study in 2004 estimated that recreation and tourism associated with Silver Springs added $61 million a year to the economy and supported more than 1,000 jobs.
Silver Springs may be the poster child for decline but others closer to Orlando — including Wekiwa Springs — also are becoming gummed up with algae.
State environmental regulators and officials from the five water district agencies insist they are aware of the threat to the springs. And yet our springs are still dying.
In recent years, state leaders have thrown more energy into fighting efforts led by environmental groups to impose more-stringent water quality standards that would reduce nutrient pollution. And last year Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers slashed funding for the state's water management districts.
With friends of the environment like these, well…
Advocates for saving Silver Springs have lately been galvanized by a proposal from a Canadian auto-parts magnate to pump 13 million gallons of water a day from the aquifer to develop a huge cattle ranch. Last month, a rally to save the springs drew more than 1,700 people, including former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.
Advocates are petitioning Scott to form a commission or task force to protect the springs and other endangered waterways. That's the least the governor should be doing.
Scott must launch a serious, statewide effort to protect springs throughout Florida. It'll take a wide-ranging plan, including tighter controls on groundwater pumping, more-effective curbs on nutrient pollution, and greater protection for sensitive land nearby.
To its lasting shame, Florida once allowed the near ruin of another environmental treasure, the Everglades. It's taking years, and costing billions, to restore.