Florida springs: An owner’s manual

All that glitters has been lost from Florida’s once crystal clear springs.

Albertus Vogt, aka “The Duke of Dunnellon,” was quite the flamboyant Floridian for the 1880s.

He made his money in phosphate mining and he liked to flaunt it. A favorite amusement was dropping gold coins into Silver Springs.

He liked the way the coins seemed to grow in size in the crystalline water.

Don’t try that stunt today, boys and girls.

There’s little magnifying effect in murky water. And those glittering coins would disappear amid the brown drab algae that coats everything below the surface.

Due to declining water flows and nutrient poisoning, Knight, executive director of the Howard T. Odium Florida Springs Institute, writes, “many of Florida’s favorite springs have seen their native vegetation replaced by filamentous algae, their former clarity lost to murkiness, and their damaged health evidenced by declining fish and wildlife populations.”

Listen, I called “Saving Florida Springs” a book. It’s not.

It’s an owners manual. And it is sorely overdue.

Because to the extent that we Floridians collectively own these wondrous springs we are terrible stewards of our most precious natural resource.

Florida’s springs are sick. And we owners are the cause of the disease when we should be the cure.

But the springs are not yet terminal.

Florida’s crystal clear springs were a favorite Hollywood location. “The Creature Of The Black Lagoon” was filmed in Wakulla Springs.

As Knight puts it, “a bright future for Florida’s springs is as simple as swallowing a pill. A healthy springs pill will counteract the greed and corruption that have spread like a cancer in the Sunshine State. 

“This pill attacks Florida’s environmental cancer directly by modifying the mutated cancer cells that allow private businesses and their politicians to violate the Public Trust Doctrine for their personal financial gain.”

Florida’s springs have been overtaken because of decreasing flow and increased nitrogen pollution.

His optimism aside, there is no easy swallow to the pill – or pills – he has in mind. 

Among the remedies listed in his owners manual: • Put all of Florida – from farms to factories to utilities to individuals – on a “water budget.” • Stop pulling more water out of the ground than is sustainable.• Create an “Aquifer Protection Fund,” by mandating a fee on all groundwater extractions.• Discourage the use more fertilizers, pesticides and other nitrogen-inducing chemicals than necessary by taxing them. • Get cities to take less water out of the ground by requiring them to take more water out of rivers and reservoirs.• Do everything possible to get more people off septic tanks and onto central sewage systems.

Weenie Wachee Springs gave us the magic of mermaids.

Few of his pills will go down easily and without substantial resistance from the agricultural, industrial and developmental lobbies that wield so much influence in Tallahassee. 

Which raises another dilemma:

“When faced with a simplified decision about protecting or not protecting Florida’s environment, a super majority of individual Floridians will vote for a healthy environment,” he observes. “But many of those same individuals will vote for political representatives who consistently promote development at the expense of environmental protection.”

The springs belong to us all.

Case in point: What on earth convinced us to elect and re-elect Gov. Rick Scott…and then send him on to the U.S. Senate? Scott did everything in his power to cripple Florida’s water management districts and dismantle the state’s environmental protection apparatus.

Hence the most important pill in Knight’s pharmacology: To save the springs, we must convince Floridians to give a damn about them.

Listen,10 million of us get our drinking water directly from the same aquifer that nourishes the springs. So the toxics we’re pouring into the water eventually end up in our own bodies.  

We have to stop being so ignorant and uncaring about the relationship between our own health and welfare and the fate of the springs. 

That’s only going to happen with a lot of public awareness on multiple levels – in our schools, on our utility bills, in public service campaigns, on social media and more.

We have to reacquaint Floridians with their magical springs if we want to save them.

Instilling a “deeply held water ethic” may sound like a bridge too far, but Knight thinks we  Floridians may finally be ready to confront the consequences of our collective neglect.

“With the year-to-year red tides and guacamole-thick cyanobacteria blooms in south Florida, the importance of wise water management finally gained some ground in the consciousness of Floridians,” he ventures.

Could red tide and green algae finally convince us to take better care of the water all around us?

Could red tide, green algae, toxic water and tons of dead fish and manatees be what finally convinces us to take our stewardship of all Florida waters seriously? 

It’s sad that it has to come to that, but nothing else has worked so far.

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