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40 top projects funded for Florida Springs

Shady hideaway last Friday morning at Madison Blue Spring, slated for improvements through the District’s 2017 Florida Forever Plan. -Photo: Marianne Graves

By Marianne Graves

The first spring to be purchased by the State of Florida was 68 years ago in 1949 when Manatee Springs in Chiefland was acquired. Florida’s magnificent springs are owned by both public and private entities, but nature’s balance in 2017 requires maneuvering for funds, updated technologies and community support to conserve these living waters. Under the leadership of Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has announced a suite of 40 projects that will receive nearly $50 million from the Fighting for Florida’s Future budget to improve water quality, reduce nutrient loading, recharge water supply and protect habitat in Florida’s iconic spring systems.

The state’s investment of more than $16 million to protect springs within the Suwannee River Water Management District includes Ichetucknee, White, Blue Sink, Madison Blue, Hornsby, Poe and Santa Fe springsheds. Combined with match funding from the District, four other water management districts and local partners, the investment in springs projects statewide will total more than $100.7 million during the 2017-18 fiscal year.

According to DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein, the importance of securing a dedicated funding source for springs restoration and protection was paramount: “We can continue to focus on completing strategic acquisitions and projects that will produce real benefits for our spring systems,” he said in a recent DEP statement.

The Suwannee River Water Management District contains the highest concentration of freshwater springs in Florida with over 300 springs documented: “The health and preservation of our springs and other water resources is our top priority,” said District Executive Director Hugh Thomas, through last week’s Florida Department of Environmental Protection announcement.

These projects are selected based on pollutant reduction, water conservation, cost effectiveness and available matching dollars. The following highlighted projects are three of the eight selected projects within the District, benefiting Ichetucknee, White Springs and Blue Sink springs.

One $3.4 million-dollar collaborative project near Ichetucknee Springs focuses on the elimination of 30 business and five residential septic tanks at I-75/State Road 47 for phase 1 of the Cannon Creek Sink Public Wastewater Improvement Project. Ichetucknee Springs is a high-dollar producer for the local economy around Fort White.

Robert Soderholm, Ichetucknee Springs State Park manager, said, “I do understand that nutrient loading is the biggest problem to our water source . . . the increase of nitrates.” The Florida Department of Environmental Protection reports that future phases, if completed, will eliminate up to 900 septic tanks and reduce up to 64,600 of nutrient loading per year within the Santa Fe basin management action plan area.

Another top project is planned to improve White Springs in Hamilton County, one of Florida’s first tourist attractions, and Blue Sink in Suwannee County. The I-75/CR-136 Wastewater Improvement, Septic Elimination project will use a total of $3.3 million in collaborative funding to construct a new wastewater treatment plant with wetland treatment/aquifer recharge for effluent disposal, which will eliminate 32 existing commercial septic tanks. DEP estimates this project will result in a hefty nutrient reduction benefit of 39,785 pounds of total nitrogen per year, and 109 pounds of total phosphorus per year in the proposed Suwannee BMAP area.

The technology used in Precision Agriculture, which is also known as satellite farming or site specific crop management, combines a total of $2.5 million in collaborative funding to be used to provide cost-share funds to agricultural producers within FDEP BMAP. The goal is to put this technology into practice for better efficiency and conservation of nutrients, impacting many springsheds across the district, with priority given to Florida Outstanding Springs areas. The nutrient reduction benefit is estimated at 7.5 million pounds of total nitrogen per year.

A complete list of the springs protection projects funded by the Fighting for Florida’s Future budget can be found online. These projects will be considered by the water management district Governing Boards as part of their upcoming budget hearings. For example, Madison Blue Spring in the Town of Lee in Madison County is slated for rehabilitation or replacement of existing drainage wells to improve aquifer recharge rates.

Madison Blue Spring drainage wells will be upgraded with innovative pretreatment technology, which may include the installation of biosorptive activated media, or the construction of treatment wetlands. This will prevent further clogging of these North Florida wells and improve the water quality of the recharge. This project is in the District’s 2017 Florida Forever Plan.

The mission of the Suwannee River Water Management District is to protect and manage water resources using science-based solutions to support natural systems and the needs of the public. Headquartered in Live Oak, Florida, the District serves 15 surrounding north-central Florida counties.

For more information about the District, visit or follow them on Facebook and Twitter, search @SRWMD.

Tommy Landale, OPS Park Ranger at Madison Blue Spring, stands by one of the monitoring wells to be upgraded. - Photo: Marianne Graves