Following North
Florida’s Water

A Photo Story by Matt Bruce


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Clouds build over Paynes Prairie as distant rain sweeps across the landscape. Here, water begins a journey that can take many paths and touches all life.

Rain perks up a resurrection fern in a Gainesville area yard. This plant, often found on the shaded branches of live oaks, survives periods of drought by curling up and turning brown. Once the rain returns, this aptly named fern readily unfurls and regains its lush, vibrant appearance.

Our abundance of fresh water in Florida gives rise to a diverse array of fauna. Many animals, such as this Chipping Sparrow, depend on clean sources of water to thrive.

This kayaker, fishing pole at his side, enjoys the tranquility and solitude Newnans Lake can provide. Floridians depend on clean water, not only for recreation, but for the state’s economy. It’s estimated that fishing alone generates $3.8 billion in revenue for Florida businesses each year.

Storm drains divert water from roadways and carry it on to retention ponds or natural areas. This storm drain collects water from US-441 and sends it directly onto Paynes Prairie, along with oil and other pollutants from the highway.

Poorly maintained cars can leak fluids that eventually drain into our waterways. This image, taken on the north side of Gainesville, reveals the parking spot of a car with an oil leak. The oil pools on the pavement until rain comes. Lighter than water, the oil is quickly lifted from the surface of the driveway and flushed into a storm water system that leads directly to Hogtown Creek, a local waterway that flows through much of urban Gainesville before plunging underground to recharge the Floridan Aquifer.

Fertilizers, insecticides and other chemicals sprayed onto lawns easily make their way into our local waterways. Aside from the pollutants associated with maintaining a perfect green carpet, lawns typically require heavy irrigation. It is estimated that about half the groundwater pumped for home use from the Floridan Aquifer is used for irrigation, water that would otherwise be available to quench local springs and rivers.

The agricultural industry draws about a third of the 4 billion gallons of groundwater pumped from Florida’s aquifers each day. Agriculture is also among the major sources of pollutants to waterways. Livestock manure is a leading source of nutrient pollution, especially where cattle numbers are most intense.

Much of the rain that falls on Florida’s rooftops and parking lots ultimately makes its way to local lakes and streams as runoff. Many of the pollutants can be naturally filtered out by vegetation over time. However, some of this polluted water makes its way directly into the Floridan Aquifer via natural sinkholes. This image shows Haile Sink, where Hogtown Creek flows underground and into the aquifer.

Gainesville’s water supply is pumped up from the Floridan Aquifer and piped to our homes and businesses. Facilities such as GRU’s Murphree Water Treatment plant test and treat the public supply to make sure it’s safe for human consumption. However, people who live in rural areas often rely on private wells for their drinking water. It is up to the owner of the well to ensure their water is safe.

One of the keys to reducing the amount of water pumped from the aquifer is use it more efficiently. Here, a drop of water from a highly efficient micro-irrigation system nourishes this radish sprout in a local organic garden.

Water bubbles up from the Floridan Aquifer at the head spring of the Ichetucknee River. As the warm spring waters meet the cold winter air, droplets condense into fog. As the day warms, water vapor rises and forms clouds. From these clouds, the water will start its journey once again.

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About Project: Blue Ether

WUFT News is publishing this multi-week series on water by University of Florida students, led by award-winning environmental journalist and author Cynthia Barnett, who is a visiting professor at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.