Springs Working Group Holds Summit at Camp Kulaqua
The Santa Fe Springs Working Group recently held a Springs Protection Summit at Camp Kulaqua in High Springs specifically targeting local elected officials. Ninety-four people participated in the meeting, including representatives from Alachua and Gilchrist counties and from the cities of Alachua, High Springs and Newberry.
Turf-Grass - Florida’s Largest Crop
Guy Marwick of Smart Growth Coalition of North Central Florida began the meeting with some shocking statistics.
“Things are changing in our area, and changing very fast,” Marwick said, citing the fact that lawn fertilizer now outsells agriculture fertilizer.
“We are growing lawns. The biggest areas of irrigated crops are now lawns.”
In the mid-80s Marwick was instrumental in starting a museum at Silver Springs and convincing the State of Florida to acquire properties around the springs.
Local developers were planning to develop properties along the Silver River so Marwick pulled together a group of people and formed Friends of Silver Springs. It took years of lobbying but eventually officials saw the wisdom in protecting these vital areas.
“The Springs are at the end of the pipe,” Marwick said. “What goes into the pipe became my next concern.”
When 2,000 acres were set aside for a landfill near Half Mile Creek Marwick provided Commissioners with crucial information that caused them to reconsider.
“They changed their minds at the last minute,” Marwick said.
Marwick emphasized the importance of bringing in experts, having workshops and educating elected officials as well as the public.
“The road is a long and hard one but we have to feel optimistic about protecting our springs and rivers,” Marwick said.
City and County Officials Speak Out
A panel of city and county officials took the stage to voice their concerns and ask questions of the group.
High Springs City Manager Jim Drum talked about local issues such as the increase in development and tourism and the resulting degradation of the springs.
“It used to be that the solution to pollution is dilution,” Drum said, recognizing that stormwater has traditionally been channeled into sinkholes, springs and rivers, but such a philosophy is no longer valid.
Alachua Mayor Jean Calderwood talked about the need to not only look at water that flows horizontally but vertically.
“We are not where we need to be but we have come a long way,” Calderwood said.
“We need to enact more protection.”
Newberry Mayor John Glanzer proposed a holistic approach.
“We’ve just recently become aware of our responsibilities to our neighbors,” Glanzer said. “We need to look at uniform stormwater regulations and landscape regulations. It will have a greater effect if done holistically instead of individually.”
Donny Sparkman of Wakulla county said that as the county experiences growth there is degradation to Wakulla Springs. Although they are in the process of adopting a water quality amendment he wondered when the fruits of their labor would become evident.
“When do we know what we are doing is actually working,” he asked the group.
Ron McQueen of Gilchrist county said he was encouraged and discouraged with what he was hearing.
“North Florida is becoming South Florida,” McQueen said. “Have we not learned anything from out past? How do we bring in the stakeholders? The State is going to have to get involved. Some of the water (entering the springs) is 40 years old. What is my water going to look like in 40 years?”
Alachua County Manager Randall Reid talked about the importance of public awareness, developing regulations and finding the political leadership necessary to address these serious issues.
“What legacy are we going to leave,” he asked. “Our future is not yet written. We can selectively choose our future. What do we want to preserve?”
The meeting split into breakout sessions in which the issues of land development, wastewater treatment and stormwater practices were discussed at length.
In the stormwater breakout session Commissioner Kirk Eppenstein talked about the problems faced by the city of High Springs.
“We are already seeing dramatic things happening here,” Eppenstein said. He pointed out that in the summer the city water becomes discolored and he cited concerns regarding stormwater runoff.
“I felt very frustrated,” he said regarding the proposed Supercenter in Alachua. “We asked that an applicant put in a filtration system and were told they didn’t have to.”
He was also frustrated with the Department of Transportation’s slow response to city requests to prevent stormwater from running into the sinkholes in the area.
After the breakout sessions the groups discussed what they had learned.
Robert Norton, Senior Planner of the Alachua County Department of Growth Management described the need to identify non-point sources of pollution, to make the legal connections and to educate the public.
Wastewater discussions included treatment centers and septic tanks. Paul Booher of the Florida Department of Health suggested the creation of a septic utility.
“In my opinion this is a big project. A huge problem,” Booher said. “How do you pay for it? Every one of us is part of the problem. Everybody in the state needs to pay. The springs are showing us an epidemic.”
Dianna Grawitch of the Florida Association of Counties discussed the stormwater issues.
“There is a gap in getting the information out there,” Grawitch said.
“We need education targeted to homeowners.”
Experts agreed that education, money, research and regulation are crucial to preserving Florida’s rivers and springs and ultimately the drinking water. Pollution does not recognize borders. Sprayfields in Tallahassee effect rivers and streams miles away. Dye test studies have shown conclusively that anything introduced into the Mill Creek Sink in Alachua will travel all the way to Hornsby Creek in Camp Kulaqua in a mere 12 days.
Springs Working Group Coordinator Faye Baird, who led the summit, reminded everyone that these are critical times for the springs. As the meeting drew to a close she encouraged the group to think big and to that end made a list of possible solutions that may curtail this growing threat to Florida’s water.
Suggestions included labeling fertilizer that is environmentally friendly and taxing ‘bad’ fertilizer, evaluating existing stormwater practices, creating a wastewater utility, providing educational booklets to every new homeowner and designing an entire subdivision using best management practices.