Santa Fe River
The Santa Fe River is fed by four tributaries, or freshwater streams that feed into a larger stream or river, located in New River, Olustee Creek, Cow Creek and the Ichetucknee River. The river also extends through seven counties in North Florida and is home to over 36 springs. (Photo courtesy of Hilary Skowronski/Florida Springs Institute)

Plan To Restore Springs In The Santa Fe River Shows A Promising But Challenging Year Ahead

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The Florida Springs Institute recently revealed the results of its three-year project along with a new blueprint that seeks to restore the springs surrounding the Santa Fe River. These were the results.

Some solutions that the Florida Springs Institute offers in efforts to tackle these lingering issues are implementing carrying capacity limits in all public springs, reducing groundwater pumping to one-third of current regional pumping levels and complying with Florida’s numeric nutrient standard for nitrate nitrogen in springs of 0.35 parts per million.

The Santa Fe River project began in 2018 to better study and analyze the conditions of the Santa Fe River and the springs.

The blueprint initiated at the start of 2021 now has four main goals set for each spring being restored, including the Santa Fe springs. The areas of focus will work toward flow restoration, water restoration, biological restoration and human carrying capacity.

In a late February meeting, water expert and project director Dr. Bob Knight was joined by environmental scientists Zoe Hendrickson and Hilary Skowronski to discuss the findings of the project that monitored water quality, ecological and ecosystem health, and water and nitrogen mass balance. They also offered insights on their newest initiative.  

The information from the analysis resulted in the development of the blueprint to restore the springs on the Santa Fe River, Knight said.

“My job was to oversee the ecological monitoring and primarily to help interpret this information and put it into a package that we can take to the bank and try to turn around some of the impairments that we’re seeing on the river,” Knight said.

The Florida Springs Institute also partnered with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which helped with the analytical laboratory work and provided the data for the new strategy.  

The goal is to eliminate some of the major problems occurring within the springs that are affecting the river. 

The Santa Fe River is fed by four tributaries, or freshwater streams that feed into a larger stream or river, located in New River, Olustee Creek, Cow Creek and the Ichetucknee River. The river also extends through seven counties in North Florida and is home to over 36 springs.

One of the issues is a significant decline in spring flows into the river. Springs are vital to streams and rivers because some of them depend on a spring’s water flow. This can help with droughts by providing clean fresh water and supporting ecosystems, which contain endangered animal and plant species. 

Other critical problems seen in the springs include long-term declining flow trends that have resulted from increased groundwater extractions for urban and agricultural development and an increase in nitrate nitrogen concentrations. Natural spring and river plant communities are also disappearing and being replaced by filamentous algae, leading to a decline in wildlife populations.

“Springs are providing about 85% of the flow within the Santa Fe River,” Hendrickson said about one of the study results in the Feb. 22 Zoom meeting. She also added that “about 95% of nitrogen loading in the Santa Fe River are coming from groundwater sources.” 

However, the most detrimental issue from the study is the increase in nitrate nitrogen affecting the water quality of the springs, which represent a vital source of clean drinking water. Nitrogen is essential for all living things, but high levels of nitrate in drinking water can be a danger to our health. 

The Blueprint for Santa Fe Springs Restoration states that in the past 70 years of documentation “nitrate nitrogen concentrations in individual Santa Fe River springs have increased between 1,000 and 80,000 percent, and by an average of 2,600 percent in the Lower Santa Fe River. The current average nitrogen pollutant load in the river is about 1,900 tons per year with more than 95 percent coming into the river from spring flows.”

And with the recent news of the Suwannee River Water Management Board approving a permit to pump water for bottling from Ginnie Springs, this issue takes on heightened importance.

About Valerie Izquierdo

Valerie is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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