Officials meet,discuss future of area springs

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Officials and representatives from at least a dozen businesses and state and local government organizations gathered Thursday at Fanning Springs City Hall to discuss the fate and preservation of Manatee and Fanning Springs.

Carol Lippincott, an environmental consultant, coordinated the meeting and started it off with an update on what is currently known about the health of the springs.

She said their health, which has gotten progressively worse over the years, is facing two main issues: the reduced quantity of water feeding the aquifer—the source of the springs—and the diminished quality of the water.

She said that although drought is recognized as part of the problem contributing to less water, agriculture is having a big impact.

“It’s influencing the long-term flow patterns of the springs,” she said.

Farmers in the area are permitted to collectively draw 14 million gallons of water per day, she said, though a couple of representatives at the meeting suggested most users don’t find it necessary to draw the maximum allowed.

Diminished quality, the other issue, comes from high levels of nitrate pollution, which is most commonly attributed to fertilizer use and causes a destructive proliferation of algae growth.

“What you see is, since 1956, Manatee Springs has been gradually increasing in nitrate pollution; Fanning Springs is way up,” Lippincott said.

She said Fanning Springs has some of the highest nitrate levels in the state.

She later suggested that areas like the Chiefland sink hole, which is partially fed by storm water drains and was recently determined to have a direct connection to Manatee Springs, might need to be mitigated for in one way or another.

Pete Butt, project manager for Karst Environmental Services Inc., was involved with the dye test that showed the connection between the sinkhole and springs.

He showed up at the meeting to present some of his findings, which reveal that water entering the mouth of the sinkhole can travel to the springs in as little time as a week—about a mile a day—he said.

Lippincott said the water being channeled to the Chiefland sinkhole needs to be tested and that the area is a prime candidate for debris-collecting box traps and an appropriately designed retention pond, which would help to filter and convert pollutants.

Margaret Ross Tolbert, a Gainesville artist who’s been painting the springs for more than two decades, showed up to lend a visual image and record of the springs’ declining health throughout the years.

Clicking through a slide show of her blue, shimmering and light-dappled paintings, Tolbert explained that her paintings used to depict vast swaths of lush eelgrass and clear blue water.

But now, she said, her brush records the growth of carpets of algae and water that’s become green and diffused by particles in the water.

“Manatee looks like turquoise Jell-O,” she said.

“We gotta’ pull this spring back.  It’s been a masterpiece.  We gotta’ get back to that.”

    Other attendees to the meeting included representatives from the Nature Coast Water Authority and representatives from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

    Randy Durden, on behalf of the authority, and Steve Minnis, from the Suwannee River Water Management District, came to explain how the authority could potentially benefit the springs.

    Minnis said the authority, which is a water partnership of two counties and several municipalities located within Levy County, would help streamline water management in the region and have more influence on legislators through a unified voice.

    He said the authority, which is currently involved with a feasibility study to determine what could and should be done by the organization, will make it easier to protect the environment, sustain resources, avoid competition from outside water seekers, protect existing users and secure funding—all of which, according to Minnis, will benefit the springs.

    Terry Hansen, a representative from FDEP, said the state would be trying to control the high levels of nitrate pollution in the area by continuing to enforce guidelines and ordinances, such as the fertilizer ordinance and the springs’ protection ordinance—both a part of the Clean Water Act of 1987.

    The Fanning and Manatee Springs Working Group’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 18 at Fanning Springs City Hall.  Members of the public are encouraged to attend.