The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) celebrated the completion of a water improvement project for Ichetucknee Springs on Oct. 28 with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The Ichetucknee Springs Water Quality Improvement project reduces nutrients entering the river and provides beneficial draining to the Upper Floridan aquifer, said Darrell Smith, the agriculture director for the Suwannee River Water Management District.
The DEP partnered with the Suwannee River Water Management District to complete the project, which took about two and a half years, Smith said. They also partnered with Lake City representatives, Columbia County representatives and local community leaders for the completion ceremony.
The SRWMD used almost $4 million from the “Florida Families First” budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year for the project, Jessica Boyd, the communications coordinator for the DEP press office, wrote in an email.
Boyd said the funding also went toward projects in Lafayette and Dixie counties. These two projects helped restore the Middle Suwannee River and other springs by building and modifying structures to create natural draining.
Traci Klepper, the information specialist at the DEP’s Division of Water Restoration Assistance, said the project has helped increase surface water to hydrate wetlands and groundwater recharge, which will enhance springs restoration.
“The project re-establishes natural drainage patterns by constructing and modifying conveyance structures along the southeastern margin of Mallory Swamp,” Klepper said.
Smith said the SRWMD plans to work with local governments to identify new projects and help find solutions to improve the water resources of the district.
“We’re working with the governments, local governments and private land owners, to install water control structures or other items that just reconnect wetlands and facilitate increased recharge,” Smith said. “All of that, restoring those natural systems just helps the groundwater levels there, which affect spring flow and river flow.”
Thirty five springs projects have been identified to receive funding in the 2016-2017 Florida First budget, Boyd said. Part of the funding was thanks to Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
“Governor Scott has provided historic funding during the past four years, which when leveraged with local funding, totals more than $275 million that directly benefits springs water quality and quantity,” Boyd said.
As for the effect the Ichetucknee Springs project has had, Florida’s springs are national treasures for the state that help attract visitors and create jobs.
They have reduced the nitrogen by about 20 percent and increased the water flow by about 25 percent with the nitrogen coming from land sources, such as waste water treatment, agriculture and other land users.
“We’re working with all those land users to try to reduce the amount of nutrients, or nitrogen, that gets into the system,” he said. “The recreational value to this part of the state is a big benefit we believe for this project.”
This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the date of the ribbon cutting. It was on Oct. 28, not Nov. 28.