By Hailey Hall, Environmental Scientist, Florida Springs Institute
In 2016, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act, and the state developed a list of 30 significant springs (designated as Outstanding Florida Springs) to receive special legal protection. If water quality is found impaired, these springs require a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) to achieve water quality standards within a 20-year time frame.
FSI recently completed our ecological health assessment of four Outstanding Florida Springs along the Suwannee: Lafayette Blue, Troy, Fanning, and Manatee.
A selection of key indicators of ecological health were sampled at each of these springs over a full year, including discharge, water quality, water clarity, plant communities, snails, fish, recreation, and whole ecosystem metabolism. Trends in these data were compared to historic data from the springs and to from dozens of Florida’s other springs, and each spring was assessed for a health report card. Also, due to significant spring brownouts from tannic water flooding from the Suwannee, a secondary flow study was conducted where we documented an important interaction between the river and springs: with declining aquifer levels from groundwater pumping, Suwannee River springs have prolonged periods of tannic water outflows following spring flow reversals. Many of these springs are losing their former ecological health and economic vitality.
Sadly, all four springs were shown to be seriously impaired in terms of flow declines, nutrient pollution, and poor biotic communities. Ecological impairments were shown to increase from upstream to downstream. Lafayette Blue and Troy both received failing grades, while Fanning was graded a D and Manatee a C-.
Based on our 2021 quantitative assessment, spring health is very poor in these systems and restoration is increasingly difficult. These Outstanding Florida Springs require immediate and holistic intervention.