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Rotarians learn about spring protection program

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By Jeff M. Hardison

Chiefland Rotary Club members and guests learned about a spring protection program Nov. 28, which not only helps protect nearby water quality but also promises hope for better drinking water on an international scale.

John Wheeler, a visiting Rotarian from Lake City, told the group about a program to reduce pollution from the water feeding Ichetucknee Springs.

The government has worked to decrease pollutants going into the water, by changing the manner it spreads waste in the spray fields, Wheeler said. Farmers continue using best management practices to limit the impact of agriculture on water resources too, he added.

The biggest group putting nutrients into the system now appears to be residential property owners, he said. Leaking septic tanks and using too much fertilizer on lawns are seen as two significant culprits, he said.

Homeowners in Lake City and Columbia County, Wheeler said, can team up with the Lake City Rotary Club in a program called the Ichetucknee Promise.

First, the homeowner pays $50 to the Rotary Club. This way, he said, they remember they are "buying into" the promise they are making. Then, they receive a large weather-resistant marker in the shape of Columbia County. The marker goes in the participant's yard. It has the Rotary seal on it and it shows the three points of the promise:

1. Use slow-release fertilizer or no fertilizer.

2. Pump out and inspect each septic tank every five years.

3. Contact city and county commissioners and tell them you feel it is important to protect springs.

When Wheeler was a child, he and his family would vacation in Crystal River. Back then, he said, anyone could see 40-feet down into the springs feeding the river. Crystal River was crystal clear, he said.

"It (Crystal River) is different now than it was 25 years ago," he said. "I remember when King's Bay was teaming with sheepshead, mackerel, mullet - all kinds of fish. It's all gone away. You can't even see the bottom now. It's a murky nightmare."

He said the Itchetucknee River's green eelgrass is turning brown, because nutrients are causing brown algae to attach to the grass. Some swimmers complain of itching caused by toxic algae growth, he said.

One year ago, the Lake City Rotary Club launched its program. It has raised $5,000 in the program so far, he added.

The Rotary Foundation will add to that $5,000 to total as much as $14,000 to help fund a water project in the Honduras, he said. By building a water culvert going into the mountains there, Rotary Club is freeing time and energy spent by women and children who must walk up the mountain for water, he said.

This time and energy can now be spent to allow them to become more literate, he added, rather than performing a daily water-gathering chore.

The Rotary Club of Branford has started a Three-Rivers Promise program, he said. It works to protect the Santa Fe River, Suwannee River and Itchetucknee River.

Perhaps, the Chiefland Rotary Club will start a promise program to protect Manatee Springs and Fanning Springs, Wheeler said.