A spring without flow is a stagnant (synonyms: still, motionless, immobile, inert, lifeless, dead, standing, slack, static, stationary, etc.) sinkhole. It is not completely dead but looks and stinks like it is dead. For all intents and purposes, a non-flowing spring has none of the qualities that make Florida’s springs so inspiring, sacred and alive.
It is not in the public’s best interest to dry up any of Florida’s artesian springs. Healthy springs support a vast and abundant assemblage of charismatic and endangered wildlife, nourish our many rivers and lakes during droughts, and are the sought-after playground for tens of millions of visitors each year.
Springs are essential for our local ecology and economy. Our governmental agencies responsible for protecting Florida’s environmental and economic prosperity would be reckless and irresponsible to allow our priceless springs to stop flowing.
Nevertheless, our public servants are complicit in the ongoing decline of Florida’s once crystalline springs. Not content with already permitting nearly 5 billion gallons of groundwater withdrawals per day from the Floridan Aquifer, our water management districts continue to issue thousands of new well permits each year.
The simple truth is that every gallon of groundwater that is pumped to the land surface and not returned to the aquifer is one less gallon contributing to spring flow. The current best estimate for flow reduction for all of Florida’s 1,000-plus artesian springs is one third.
During dry years with less rain to recharge the aquifer and greater pumping for irrigation, hundreds of springs stop flowing entirely and many reverse flows, allowing tannic and salty surface waters to enter the underground caves and conduits of the Floridan Aquifer.
I continue to repeat myself when I remind you and the governmental agencies that most of Florida’s springs are already past the point of “impairment” and “significant harm” as defined by Florida’s laws. A clear example of this harm can be seen in the Santa Fe River of north-central Florida and the 40-plus springs that have historically provided much of its flow.
Average flows in these springs and in the entire Santa Fe River are down by 30 percent to 40 percent. Large springs, which were never observed to stop flowing prior to 2001, have stopped flowing multiple times during recent drought periods. Springs that were translucent-blue 25 years ago are now green-brown and most of their plants and fish are gone.
The Santa Fe springs' flow reductions are the direct result of too much groundwater pumping. All significant human water uses in the dozen counties surrounding the river come at the expense of spring flows. The urgent question is “When will the Suwannee River Water Management District and local politicians put a stop to the destruction of our region’s most unique natural resources?” The answer should be “Now!”
Nestle’ Waters, the world’s largest water-bottling company, is supporting renewal of a permit to increase groundwater extraction from Ginnie Springs. They have purchased the former Coca Cola/Ice River Springs water bottling plant on CR 340 in Gilchrist County and adjacent to Ginnie Springs Outdoors.
Under the water use permit held by Seven Springs Water Company, the previous bottling plant owner, Ice River Springs, never extracted more than about 270,000 gallons per day. Nestlé is hoping to increase that extraction to 1,152,000 gallons per day. This is an increase of 882,000 gallons per day, none to be returned to the aquifer that feeds Ginnie Springs.
Instead of cooling off the hundreds of thousands of swimmers in those springs and providing habitat for fish and wildlife downstream in the Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers, that is water that will be shipped worldwide.
The state’s answer to Seven Springs and Nestlé must be “No!” There is no way that these corporation’s desire for more profit is a higher priority than the health of our region’s springs.
At the same time the water board denies Seven Springs/Nestlé’s permit request, they must deliver on their 2015 promise to start the flow restoration of the Santa Fe and Ichetucknee springs and rivers by reducing all existing groundwater use permits.
Taking on an industrial giant like Nestlé Waters may be frightening for Florida’s water managers. But it is the right decision for Florida’s future. And it is the only decision that will bring praise from the public those state regulators work for.
Bob Knight is director of the Florida Springs Institute in High Springs.