Surviving a Florida summer

requires a dip in the springs
By Patricia Behnke Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

a first magnitude spring anymore,” Stevenson said. “Human activities have led to an increase in nitrates in the springs and watershed areas,” Smith said. Florida’s Paleo-Indians believed “Those activities include maintaining sacred water filled the springs and the perfect lawn and gardens in our the magical waters held the cure to all own yards.” human ills. The Timucuans roamed If we live in a spring recharge area, the shores of the spring-fed rivers of we play a part in the health of the North Florida and settled there for springs and ultimately the water we the life-sustaining food and water the drink from the Floridan aquifer. springs provided. Spanish explorers “We’ve been sloppy housekeepers thought they had discovered the of the springs, messing them up with elixir for perpetual youth when they fertilizer and endless irrigation,” stumbled upon the crystal clear Stevenson said. “Individuals gems while exploring Florida. must stop treating water as if In the recent past, the springs “If we live in a spring recharge area, it’s free and limitless.” have served as the backdrop for This is the perfect time we play a part in the health of the baptisms, weddings, vacation to do all we can to take get-aways and reunions. Today, springs and ultimately the water we responsibility for our springs many of them are state parks and drink from the Floridan aquifer.” and give them the perpetual remain intertwined with our lives. life Ponce de Leon thought he But even before the Timucuans had discovered. We can start by roamed North Florida, wildlife that is implementing that group’s looking at our lawns and gardens and depended upon the springs. Gar, work. “The drier climate will affect the become better housekeepers for the bowfin and sturgeon – ancient living recharge of the springs, reducing the water, for our wildlife and ultimately fossils – still inhabit the waters of the flow and increasing the concentration for ourselves. springs and river runs. The springs of nitrates because of a reduction in The Suwannee River Water environment hosts species found discharge volume.” Management District provides nine nowhere else in the world. Blind cave Jim Stevenson, a retired chief tips to creating a Florida yard that will crayfish, blind cave shrimps and other biologist with Florida’s Department lessen our water usage and eliminate specialized cave- dwelling crustaceans of Environmental Protection and the need for pesticides on our grass, are highly dependent on the system. now coordinating the Wakulla and plants and shrubs. Go to http://www. Fish, such as American eels and Ichetucknee Springs Basin Working to find out catfish, take refuge in underwater Groups, sees the current situation about planting the right plants in the caves, and striped bass seek out cooler with the springs as a two-fold problem. right place, using mulch and much, waters of springs to escape the heat of “There are two major things that much more. Another great site on summer river waters in Florida. The impact the health of the springs: the smart landscaping can be found at visible wildlife using spring systems quantity of spring flow and quality – from great blue herons to deer – of the water,” he said. “The U.S. So instead of watering your lawn depend upon the ecosystem’s delicate Geological Survey has said that the and pesticides to your plants, go dive balance of all creatures living there. Ichetucknee’s flow is down 15 percent. into one of the many springs still The vegetation, the consistent Hornsby Springs on the Santa Fe flowing and enjoy the best thing about temperature, the chemical makeup River is a first magnitude spring, and a Florida summer. Be sure to marvel of the water and abundant sunshine there are times it doesn’t flow.” at the abundant wildlife in our midst, provide sanctuary to one of the most And then there’s Fanning Springs on just as the Native Americans once did. biologically diverse and productive the Suwannee River near Chiefland, Contact Patricia Behnke at ecosystems in the world. To prevent which Stevenson calls the “poster the springs from disappearing as did child for spring degradation.” the Timucuans, we need to conserve “Fanning Springs may not even be

them because according to experts, our springs are in trouble. On top of it all, some predictive models show that climate change means less rain for Florida, despite an increase in the intensity of storms. “Less rainfall will have a direct impact on already-stressed springs by reducing average annual flow,” said Kent Smith, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologist who was the agency’s representative to the governor’s springs task force and continues to work on the interagency committee

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