How do I help save our springs?

Protecting Florida’s Springs, Challenges and Solutions

By Jim Stevenson, 2011

Challenges

• Few Floridians have ever seen a healthy, pristine spring and even fewer understand what healthy springs use to look like. Most think that the present condition of a spring is how it has always appeared.

• Springs of south Florida are gone. Today, the springs are north of I-4; however, about 73% of the population is south of I-4. Therefore most Floridians have never seen a spring and legislators are not being pressured by their constituents to protect them.

• South Florida is running out of fresh water. Where will that 73% of the population get their water when their wells go dry? From water rich north Florida? We have springs in so called water rich north Florida that no longer flow because of pumping.

• Springs protection is only important to a small percentage of citizens and environmental organizations in north Florida. Therefore it has not been possible for springs legislation to compete with other statewide issues and needs. There is no political will at the state level.
The public likes simple solutions. Springs protection is complicated. It is unpopular because it requires behavioral changes, new regulations, and economic costs for cities, counties, agriculture and homeowners. Corporate, agricultural, and local government lobbyists
have effectively opposed springs legislation. It has been Mother Nature against father greed and guess who is winning?

• Unfortunately, it will require a crisis to bring about public outcry such as bacteria causing prohibition of swimming in a popular spring park, or a major spring that has stopped flowing, or murky water flowing from a spring or springs choked with algae. The health of a particular spring is only of concern to the local citizens in its vicinity.

Solutions

DEP’s “Florida Springs Task Force” was composed of springs scientists and other experts who compiled the latest science and status of springs. The task force no longer exists. Perhaps the new Florida Springs Institute will fill this role.

• Form a “Florida Springs Alliance” to educate the public and the media and to pressure officials. Also, each major spring should have a Friends group to lobby for its protection like the Friends of the Wekiva River.

Bill Moyers said: “There is only one force strong enough to counter the power of organized money today and that is the
power of organized people.”

• Raise awareness of the values and the degradation of springs. Field trips of the springshed and the spring for officials and the public are a very important strategy.

In his book “River of Lakes” Florida writer Bill Bellville states, “We don’t protect what we don’t value. And one of the surest way to value a place is to connect with it, if for only a
little bit.

• Public outcry (perhaps the word is outrage) must out-weigh the political influence of lobbyists and moneyed interests like the Farm Bureau.

Senator John McCain said: “Special interests control the debate. Until they are matched by public opinion, little progress will be possible.”

• To date, most progress has been achieved by focusing on local government ordinances and comprehensive plans in counties where major springs occur; counties where the local people care about their spring. Marion, Levy and Wakulla Counties are foremost examples.

Remember the bumper sticker: “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.”

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