Tallahasee Democrat. October 14, 2020
Florida’s governmental leaders wish to proclaim success with springs protection. However, the recent article citing Northwest Florida Water Management District staff needs to be placed in proper context. The article’s premise is that, in light of recent increases in spring flow at Wakulla Springs, there is still more groundwater to pump.
The fact is that there is no “new” water coming out of Wakulla Springs. Excessive groundwater pumping by everyone living and working in the region, including South Georgia, is lowering regional spring flows, and increasing saltwater intrusion into the drinking water supply for Wakulla and Leon Counties.
The district’s Paul Thurman is quoted as saying that spring flow has gone “from 200 cubic feet per second (cfs), up to 700 cubic feet per second.” But the flow baseline used by the district only began in October 2005. U.S. Geological Survey records for Wakulla Springs date back to February 1907, when the measured flow was 857 cfs (554 million gallons per day). Wakulla Springs flows have varied widely over the past 113 years, with a median flow of about 350 cfs.
There are relatively simple explanations for recent rises in average flows at Wakulla Springs.
Wakulla Springs receives groundwater through an underground network of caves that connect it to Springs Creek, a large springs group located 12 miles south, just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Springs Creek’s flows were first observed to cease in 2006, about the same time Wakulla Springs flows began to increase.
With periodic flow cessation at Springs Creek, rising sea levels and lower aquifer levels are allowing sea water to move north through the cave network. There was no salty water reaching Wakulla Springs before 2007. Since then, salt concentrations at Wakulla Springs above the safe drinking water standard are increasingly frequent.
Clear, naturally purified groundwater that historically discharged at Wakulla Springs comes from rainfall that recharges Wakulla’s 1,500-square-mile springshed to the north. This supply of clear water is being depleted due to excessive pumping.
Increasing flows at Wakulla Springs are attributed to tannic water recharging the aquifer through three sinking streams near the Apalachicola National Forest. This “black” water, which historically flowed to the south and discharged at Springs Creek, is now going to Wakulla Springs. The resulting decline in water clarity is the reason glass bottom boat tours at the spring have come to a halt over the last two decades. Currently, a wader in Wakulla Springs swim area cannot see their feet through the dark water.
Instead of claiming success and ultimately destroying the region’s precious springs and drinking water supply, Florida’s environmental officials need to face the truth and begin the inevitable process of dialing back water use permits and taking decisive action on the climate change crisis.
Bob Knight is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute and led the Wakulla Springs Working Group from 2010 to 2011. Download the full Wakulla Springs Restoration Action Plan at: floridaspringsinstitute.org.