Water management district, UF/IFAS, UF Water Institute team up to examine springs
GAINESVILLE, Fla. —The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is joining forces with two entities as part of a $3 million, three-year contract to provide scientific data to help protect and restore the state’s springs system. UF/IFAS’ partners in the effort are the St. Johns River Water Management District, which is funding the project, and UF’s Water Institute.
“The state of Florida and the St. Johns district have made protection of Florida’s springs one of their highest environmental priorities,” said Hans G. Tanzler III, the St. Johns district’s executive director. “The challenge is finding cost effective means for restoring and protecting these precious natural resources. This collaboration between the district and UF will develop the strong scientific foundation needed to focus resources to achieve the maximum benefit of restoration and protection.”
The funding comes from the St. Johns district’s Springs Protection Initiative, which combines science, projects, planning and regulatory programs to reduce nitrate loading and protect spring flows. The partnership’s primary focus will be on the Silver Springs springhead and ecosystem, including:
- Improving the scientific foundation for the management of nitrates flowing into the springs;
- Evaluating whether nitrate reduction alone will be sufficient to restore the balance of nature;
- And assessing the influence of other pollutants and stressors.
Scientists will also look at rainfall and runoff quantity and quality; aquifer storage, flow and spring discharge; nitrate sources, nitrate uptake and nitrate loss in soils and groundwater; how the springs function and algae abundance.
A secondary system for in-depth research will be the Wekiva Springs system in Apopka, which sits at the headwaters of the Wekiva River – one of two National Wild and Scenic Rivers in Florida.
“Focusing the best water researchers in Florida on this issue will allow us to take the next major step toward the ultimate protection of these jewels in the state’s crown,” said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “This collaboration will develop the strong scientific foundation needed to restore and protect Florida’s world-class springs.”
Florida has one of the largest concentrations of freshwater springs on Earth, with more than 700 bubbling up from the state’s aquifer. There are 96 springs within the SJRWMD, including Silver Springs.
The springs’ crystal-clear water, which maintains a year-round temperature of 72 degrees, is the source for many of North and Central Florida’s rivers and streams. They provide the habitat for wildlife and fish, including manatees, alligators, limpkins, herons and turtles.
The threats to Florida’s springs are complex. Steps to reduce pollution and groundwater usage, and minimize other impacts on the springs are at the heart of many projects under way at the water district and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Water Institute Director Wendy Graham noted that the program involves 10 Water Institute-affiliated faculty from UF/IFAS, the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering – each working with a water management district scientist – allowing the group to look at the problem from many perspectives.
The research will begin immediately under the leadership of K. Ramesh Reddy, chair of the UF/IFAS Soil and Water Science Department and Ed Lowe, SJRWMD’s chief scientist.
Reddy noted that UF has partnered with SJRWMD for the past four decades on various projects that dealt with management and restoration of ecosystems within the St. Johns River basin.
“Florida’s springs serve as living laboratories to provide invaluable opportunities to understand more fully the complex processes regulating the health of these fragile ecosystems,” he said.