• 20 Jun 2016 4:25 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    The Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI)  is concerned about elevated levels of nitrate nitrogen in much of the Floridan Aquifer (see potable water nitrate nitrogen analysis findings). This same Floridan Aquifer is the source of water feeding our 1,000+ artesian springs in North Florida and is the principal supply of potable water for the region.

    A substantial portion of the water in the Floridan Aquifer has been contaminated with nitrate by human activities, including the use of fertilizers and the disposal of wastewater in areas where the aquifer is most vulnerable. Resulting nitrate concentrations are well above harmful thresholds (numeric nitrate standard of 0.35 mg/L) in most of Florida's natural springs.

    Elevated groundwater nitrate concentrations are also acutely toxic to humans. In some areas of North Florida, nitrate concentrations in drinking water wells are already above the safe drinking water standard of 10 mg/L.

    While groundwater nitrate concentrations are rising throughout the region, most areas are still below this acute threshold. However, a growing body of medical literature is indicating that there may be chronic effects of nitrate at levels at or below those found in community drinking water supplies, including municipalities and in bottled drinking water. Human health issues that have been found to be exacerbated by sub-lethal nitrate concentrations in drinking water include various forms of human cancer and birth defects.

    For these reasons the Florida Springs Institute is collecting, analyzing, and publishing nitrate data from a variety of potable groundwater suppliers.

    For the health of our springs and our human population, we believe it is critical that the public is aware of this growing threat. If you are concerned about the health of our springs and the availability of clean water for drinking and bathing, let your local and state leaders know.

    Click on the image to enlarge.

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  • 05 May 2016 10:48 AM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    Florida Springs Institute Director, Dr. Robert Knight, and Senior Environmental Scientist for FSI, Ron Clarke, were recently selected for publication in the February 2016 edition of the Journal of Earth Science and Engineering. The article, entitled "Florida Springs - A Water-Balance Approach to Estimating Water Availability", and a brief summary can be found below: 

    Click on the image above to access the full article. 

    Abstract: Florida’s artesian springs receive groundwater outflows from the Floridan Aquifer System and are concentrated north of I-4 and west to the Florida Panhandle. These springs and their resulting spring runs support a unique freshwater ecology dependent on perennial flows, constant temperature and chemistry, and high light transmissivity. Numerous observations indicate that Florida’s springs flows are declining as a result of the increasing extraction of groundwater for human uses. North Florida’s karst environment is especially susceptible to nitrogen pollution from agricultural and urban development. An empirical springs/aquifer water budget is needed to better understand these spring stressors. Discharge data from 393 of the state’s 1,000+ artesian springs are used to estimate trends in total spring discharge by decade since 1930-39. This analysis indicates that average spring flows have declined by about 32%. Large groundwater pumping centers are altering spring flows over the whole springs region. Existing groundwater pumping rates from the Floridan Aquifer in 2010 were more than 30% of average annual aquifer recharge, and allocated groundwater use in north-central Florida is nearly double current estimated uses. Based on biological research conducted in Florida springs, these flow reductions are from two to six times greater than declines known to result in significant harm to aquatic resources.

    Key words: Artesian springs, Floridan Aquifer, hydrology, aquatic ecology, aquifer recharge.

  • 18 Apr 2016 9:19 AM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    By Juliette Jones

    Florida has more freshwater springs than anywhere else in the world---that makes Florida the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth.Lucinda Faulkner Merritt 

    At this moment in time there are a great many environmental challenges competing for our attention, but few as immediate as those connected with food and water.  I have to admit that not so long ago I managed to keep myself oblivious to the environmental crises now escalating in Florida and elsewhere.  It’s common to want to overlook social and environmental issues up until the moment we feel the reality of a direct impact.   For me transformation began when a I became aware that there were growing threats to the health of  Warm Mineral Springs here in Sarasota County and realized an imminent need for the preservation, protection and depth study of this unique and valuable natural resource---issues which are still not being addressed by the stewards (City of North Port.)

    I began to look around for like-minded people, and discovered an article in the Herald Tribune entitled PROTECT WARM MINERAL SPRINGS’ FLOW by Jono Miller, a respected local environmentalist and educator.   Miller’s article inspired me to look around the state to learn more about the ecology of springs in Florida.  I was fortunate to come upon the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI) in Gainesville, founded by Dr. Robert Knight, an expert on the ecological health and restoration of springs.  Becoming a member of FSI provided exposure to individuals, organizations and information essential to my understanding of the real issues that concern Florida springs and water resources.

    Springs have a magic and a mystique about them, attractive to both body and soul.  For some deep reason, legends and sacred mythos arise around springs in almost every culture.  I think it’s because springs bring to the surface the lifeblood of Mother Earth and sometimes, as is the case with Warm Mineral Springs, this lifeblood is prehistoric---or at least very old. 

    My globetrotting has permitted me to visit springs and cenotes all around the world.  The famous Lourdes waters flow from a spring in France beneath the Grotto of Massabielle, where in 1858 an apparition of the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to a young girl named Bernadette.  Since that time miracles of healing are reported to have taken place.   The water has no thermal value, nor significant mineral properties, nonetheless attracts Catholic religious pilgrims from near and far who hope for a curative experience.  In this particular case, whatever the spirit and nature of place, the original mythos has been overshadowed by a great deal of hype inclusive of souvenir shops, people hawking water in plastic bottles and  bath cubicles “purified” by irradiation. 

    On the other end of the spectrum Te Waikoropupu Springs, located in Golden Bay on the South Island of New Zealand, elicits a profound feeling of reverence and awe.  Te Waikoropupu is the largest cold water spring in the Southern Hemisphere and contains some of the clearest, purest water ever measured.  These waters are protected by the indigenous people of New Zealand and the New Zealand Government, both of which take great pride and care to protect and preserve this treasured asset for future generations.  No one is allowed to go into Te Waikoropupu without obtaining permission.   A plaque at the entrance reads as follows:  Te Waikoropupu Springs are a taonga (treasure) and waahi tapu (sacred place) for the Maori, both locally and nationally.  The legends of Te Waikoropupu are told in the stories of Huiawa, its taniwa (guardian spirit).  In Maori tradition the springs are waiora (the purest form of water) which is the wairua (spiritual) and the physical side of life.  The springs provide water for healing and in the past were a place of ceremonial blessings at times of birth and death and the leaving and returning of travelers.  Spending time at this spring was  a great blessing , which provided a never to be forgotten impression of deep  beauty, but a model of community, deeply aligned in their stewardship and appreciation of this natural wonder.   

    The people of New Zealand observe a sacred water and springs ethic, wherein it’s commonly understood that Te Waikoropupu provides a sacred link both to the integrity of future generations and the past.  If anyone were to wonder what pure nature would have looked like in Florida a hundred years ago, visit Te Waikoropupu, and if you have a heart for nature you will probably weep.    For you will see and feel the sacred character of a spring manifest in both a physical and spiritual sense.  The concept of preservation and protection is taken very seriously among New Zealanders.

    Not so much in Florida, where the sacredness of the natural world is, for all practical purposes diminished or entirely missing.  Despite the fact that our human physical form is composed largely of water, our culture has failed to realize the sacred relationship of water to life itself.  There is plenty of evidence of disdain as we observe the plight of Florida freshwater springs.  “500 years after the arrival of Ponce de Leon on his mythical search (for the fountain of youth), our real magic fountains are imperiled by pollution, neglect and the groundwater demands of a thirsty state.  Some have stopped flowing and many are choked with algae, their blue waters turning murky and green.  Once a source of awe, our springs are now a source of deep concern, their future unclear.”  Further, “The vast Florida Aquifer, the source of our drinking water and our springs, is neither invulnerable to pollution nor is it infinite.  Withdrawals are exceeding deposits in our bank of liquid assets, and saltwater intrusion is rising.” - John Moran, Springs Eternal Project

    Most Florida springs are located in north and central Florida as are most of the existing interest groups with the desire and impetus to protect them.  Development, pollution and demands on levels of the Florida aquifer continue to take a heavy toll on the health of springs despite the efforts of many organizations and individuals to get the necessary help from the legislature to guard and protect our springs and water resources.  Recent announcements citing efforts toward water protection are flimsy in their effect and designed for political show.  The state of Florida currently lacks the political will to do what is necessary to save the springs, and springs lovers need to become increasingly savvy and politically active if things are going to change.

    The “Bowls of Light” are Growing Darker

    Marjory Stoneman Douglas called Florida Springs “bowls of liquid light” but the light has been obscured since her observations of yesteryear.  Reporter, Dave Struck was raised near Wakulla Springs and writes, “The water visibility is so reduced that Wakulla now only retains one glass bottom boat.  The algae is a black fuzz that coats the bottom and sucks up all the light. The luxurious, waving eel grass is pretty patchy; the schools of fish are mostly missing.  The Wakulla Springs of my childhood swimming hole, the Wakulla Springs of jeweled luminescence, now exists only in memories.”

    This and worse has been the fate of many Florida springs, some like White Sulfur Springs, a once popular tourist destination located near Jacksonville, has  stopped flowing, apparently due to over pumping of the ground water north of the spring.   In the past twelve years the environment of Sarasota County’s Warm Mineral Springs has changed radically.  The sulfur content is greatly reduced, the (good, rare) algae of yesteryear is scarce, where there were once a great many birds, little fish and turtles, there are  few, and the once robust healing influence of the waters is radically diminished. 

    What can be done?  First, fall in love with a spring.  Begin by checking out the Springs Eternal Project assembled by John Moran, Lesley Gamble and Rick Kilby.  Next, take a look at the Florida Springs Institute website and review information on the collection of freshwater springs featured there.  Take a few days and visit a spring. Find a way to be of service to the sacredness of Florida springs and water.  There are immediate means at our disposal as individuals---use less water, plant floridascape, reduce or eliminate pesticides.  But most of all find a spring and fall in love with it, while you have the opportunity.  

    This article was reprinted with permission from the author.

    Celebrate Earth Day 2016 with the Florida Springs Institute on Friday, April 22nd from 5-10 p.m. at the Great Outdoors in High Springs. For more information, click here

  • 12 Apr 2016 9:32 AM | Deleted user

    On April 1-3, 2016, the Florida Springs Institute hosted an immersive educational experience for college students at Ginnie Springs Outdoors. Here's an inside look at the event!

  • 01 Mar 2016 3:03 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    On February 25, 2016, the Florida Springs Institute sent a letter to the Southwest Florida Water Management District regarding our concerns surrounding the establishment of Minimum Flows and Levels for Gum Slough. That letter can be found here.

    In an email sent later that day, FSI Advisory Panel member, Linda Bystrak, stated that:

    SWFWMD is only looking at the flow of Gum Slough from 2003 on, so they can get that big spike in 2004 (from 3 hurricanes in 6 weeks) to average into the flow (see graph below). Then they can justify lowering the spring flow (by allowing more groundwater for new houses) by 6%. At the same time SWFWMD has plans to withdraw 10 mgd of With water at the Outlet River and 25mgd at the junction of Gum Slough and the With.  The average flow since 1963 has decreased over 50%, but they do not want to look at the records that far back.

    Concerned citizens should plan to attend the March 29th SWFWMD Governing Board Meeting beginning at 9 a.m. at the District’s Headquarters located at 2379 Broad Street, Brooksville, FL 34604.

  • 11 Feb 2016 2:53 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    The Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute is pleased to announce the release of its Kings Bay/Crystal River Springs Restoration Plan.

    This report addresses the decline in water quality and water flow in Kings Bay/Crystal River and provides recommended actions for restoration. The condensed Executive Summary of this report is expected in March 2016.

    To view the full report, click here. To view other restoration plans by FSI, click here.

  • 30 Nov 2015 5:00 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    By Dave Wilson

    Once again Tom Morris led a group of intrepid hikers into the unknown.  This time 15 willing victims descended into the Harvey Sharron Bat Cave located midway between Newberry and High Springs.   Since it is fenced off to keep both visitors and the cave out of harm’s way, we had to stop at Santa Fe College to pick up a key to the gate.  While the cave is small, we were scheduled at the same time with a bunch of local school kids on an adventure into the outdoors, or should we say indoors.  Fortunately, the kids took off to a more far flung part of the cave so we had the place to ourselves.

    Before we entered the cave, Tom and geologist Jim Gross gave a sequence of mini lectures on the topography, karst landscapes, geological history, and geomorphology of the region.  For example, this cave is located on a flat limestone upland plain

    The entrance consists of a spiral metal staircase implanted in a large solution tube that descends 30 feet down into an abyss.  An unusual feature of the cave is the presence of several cylindrical solution tubes which ascend from the “lake room” straight up to the surface.  These tubes allow a bit of light to penetrate into an otherwise totally dark environment.  After entering the cave, Tom discussed the solution chemistry, the movement of water, and the inhabitants.  In the middle of this discussion, someone noticed several eastern pipistrelle bats attached to the ceiling.  These adorable little creatures are the smallest of Florida’s bats.  While we did our best not to disturb them, I am sure they would have preferred we were somewhere else.  Here is a bit more information.  (This clip was extracted from a Wikipedia article.)  

    When the pipistrelles capture food they use the tail or wing membranes to restrain their prey. Some insects are even captured by their tail membrane. It forms a pouch and the bat bends its head in to grab the insect with its teeth. They can catch insects as often as every 2 seconds and increase their mass by 25% in only half an hour.

    While the extent of the hike was only a few hundred yards, we enjoyed mud, darkness, and waist deep water.  Speaking of darkness, at one point we turned off all our lights to experience true and total darkness.  To amplify the effect, we also quit talking for a few minutes.  This gimmick allows you to become connected with your internal machinery such as the sound of your blood pulsing in our ears.  One member of our party slipped and endured a full submersion.  Fortunately, the water was warm.   Unfortunately, his camera did not survive. 

    After exiting the cave, we enjoyed lunch, agreed we had a fun time, and discussed a number of possibilities for future outings. 

    PS:  For more detailed information on the history, geology, and chemistry of the cave, check out the excellent website.  Simply click on any link connected to a topic that catches your interest.  

  • 27 Oct 2015 2:29 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    by Dave Wilson with photos by Dagmar Bastiks

    On October 17, Tom Morris led 23 adventurers on an enjoyable outing to six exquisite springs near Branford.  The stops included Mill Creek Sink (actually near the city of Alachua), Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park, Olsen Springs, Running Springs, Cow Springs, Royal Springs, and Little River Springs. 

    While some members of our group had heard of a few of these gems, most had never visited any of them.  Mill Creek Sink is adjacent to the Sonny’s BBQ where Route 441 goes underneath I75 near Alachua, Florida.  While you have driven past it 1,000 times, you should check it out some time.  It is similar to the Devil’s Millhopper with steep wooden steps leading down to the bottom of the sink.  The difference is that a beautiful reflective pool awaits you at the bottom.  In one of Tom’s multitude of instant lectures, he remarked that the water in the sink is 190 feet deep.  He added that on occasion divers have been stricken with the bends ascending the steps after an extended SCUBA dive.  He also reminded us that a memorable scene from Wes Skiles’ movie “Water’s Journey, the Hidden Rivers of Florida” was filmed at Sonny’s when the geekie physics guy, Brian, walked through the salad bar while carrying a device that magnetically track Tom and Jill Heinerth SCUBA diving through the cave 190 feet below.  Teenagers love that memorable scene. 

    On the political side, we also discussed the current conflict between the City of Alachua and Alachua County concerning the rezoning of 154.5 acres on the other side of Route 441.  Tom was part of a research team that conducted a dye trace study, where dye placed in the sink reappeared 20 days later in Hornsby Springs (on the Santa Fe River).  Thus, an underground conduit transports runoff from nearby commercial developments straight into the spring system along the Santa Fe.             

    The next spring on the agenda was Wes Skiles Peacock Slough with its unusual rock formations decorating the bottom.  While our photographers enjoyed the opportunity to photograph the clear blue water, Tom described the geology of the underground cave system.  After a quick side trip to nearby Olsen Springs, we headed off to Running Springs with its clear flowing steam running directly into the Suwannee.  Celeste Shitama, owner of the spring, was not only gracious enough to let us enjoy her exquisite property, but also joined us for lunch.  Many in our group did not hesitate to enjoy a quick dip.  A water snake also joined in the fun as he cruised by one of the swimmers almost unnoticed.  

    We also walked to Cow Springs, which has a completely different character.  While Running Springs is open and clear, Cow is cold, dark, deep, and shaded by an overhang of large trees.  Despite all these reasons to avoid this spring, a number of our group plunged in anyway.  Celeste captured a wriggling loggerhead musk turtle to show the group. 

    The day was completed with short stops at Royal Springs and Little River Springs, where some of us chatted with locals about various threats to the springs (e.g. a new chicken farm nearby) while others continued to enjoy Tom’s lectures on the flora, geology, and hydrology of the area.  Tom pointed out a honey locust tree at Little River with oversized thorns along the trunk.  While serving no purpose today, he conjectured that these thorns discouraged Pleistocene mammals from eating the foliage.  At Little River we were also greeted by a drone hovering over our heads and a jet-ski roaring up the Suwannee.  Despite these minor disturbances, we all had a great day at the springs.  

    FSI will host its next outing to the Harvey Sharron Bat Cave Field Laboratory on November 7th. Registration is open to 12 springs enthusiasts for $20 each ($10 for students). On this outing you will the importance of caves to the Floridan aquifer system. Click here to register today!

  • 04 Sep 2015 2:38 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)
    Today concludes the first week of FSI's baseline assessment along the Rainbow River. For the past five days, FSI staff and local volunteers have been engaged in an extensive study of the middle and lower segments of the river with the goal of establishing a baseline of scientific information that will serve as a starting point for future health assessment of this diverse ecosystem, which connects to Rainbow Springs and the Floridan aquifer.

    FSI Executive Director, Dr. Bob Knight (left), leads a team of volunteers conducting light measurements to help determine water clarity. 

    During the week, staff and volunteers have conducted various sampling activities, including fish, bird, and vegetation surveys; flow, depth, and light measurements; and snail and human use counts. FSI is also collecting insects and water quality measurements, such as pH, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen, throughout the study period. These activities will resume next week with additional data collection and surveying.

    FSI Environmental Scientist, Ron Clark (right), records water quality data with volunteer Dan Hilliard. 

    During the busy holiday weekend, volunteers will conduct additional human use counts of the recreational activities that occur along the river. Examples of these activities include tubing, snorkeling, kayaking and canoeing. If you are planning a visit to the Rainbow River this weekend be sure to waive to our wonderful volunteers as you pass by!

    FSI has already conducted the first phase of the baseline assessment along the lower Ichetucknee River. In October, staff and volunteers will begin a two-week study of the Wakulla River and will re-visit all three systems in Spring 2016. To learn more about FSI's springs baseline assessment project and how you can become a volunteer, click here.

  • 01 Sep 2015 11:07 AM | Heather Obara (Administrator)
    On August 27, Dr. Robert Knight, Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute called for a comprehensive, area-wide groundwater nitrate sampling effort by state and local governments, especially in the karst areas of Alachua and Gilchrist counties. Dr. Knight’s call for action comes after the Alachua County Health Department released private, self-supply well nitrate data confirming the relatively common occurrence of nitrate above safe drinking water levels (10 mg/L) and the lower springs standard of 0.35 mg/L.

    (Source: Florida Department of Health)

    (Source: http:// www.dep.state.fl.us/water/drinkingwater/)

    The Alachua County Department of Health has initiated additional sampling and nitrate testing of private wells in the area of the Watson Dairy in eastern Gilchrist County. “In our opinion,” stated Knight, “that does not go far enough considering the human and ecological health risks posed by these elevated pollutant concentrations…This sampling effort should be expedited and results need to be widely publicized so that local residents are aware of the risks they face and the alternatives they have to avoid those risks.”

    A PDF version of this information is available for download here.

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