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Summit held for springs' supporters

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By Claude Lewis

FANNING SPRINGS –Unchecked growth and the accompanying pollution can be likened to a runaway freight train.

The end result isn't pretty.

In these parts, the bottom line is tainted ground water.

As scientific studies have revealed, tainted ground water ends up compromising the crystal clear springs that this area is so famous for.

When the springs are lost, so are tourist dollars, not to mention something even more precious –clean drinking water.

To head off such a chain reaction from actually becoming reality, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission along with the Department of Environmental Protection have formed Springs Basin Working Groups.

These encompass biologists, park officials, elected officials, local business folks and concerned citizens, who closely monitor the ecosytems involving the truly unique springs, spring basins, rivers and aquifers in north Florida.

There are now six springs working groups, the new kid on the block the one that hits closest to home.

The Fanning and Manatee Springs Working Group held its inaugural meeting on Valentine's Day at the Fanning Springs City Hall.

It was well-attended, with close to 50 people attending. It was the first of quarterly meetings, the next scheduled for Wednesday, May 7.

Carol Lippincott, the group coordnator, spoke of the the mission statement.

"Our role is to protect the springs and basins," said Lippincott, who has worked with lake restoration and other springs protection projects. "We want this forum to provide direction and connect people with information."

Another key issue that the group hopes to tackle is to seek funding for improved wastewater and stormwater management.

There were three guest speakers, all revealing important food for thought.

Shea Armstrong of the FFWC talked of preserving native habitats and species.

"We want to keep common species common,"she said.

Armstrong also spoke of state wildlife grants, pooling resources and conservation strategy.

Jim Stevenson, a biologist with Florida State Parks and a coordinator of the long-standing Ichetucknee and Wakulla Springs Basin Working Groups, stressed not just protecting the springs and their runs, but the whole basins.

"Springs can't survive without a healthy basin,"he pointed out. "Every land use in the basin affects the water. Springs die a slow death of 1,000 wounds. We can't stop growth. It's like stopping a hurricane. But we can reduce the impact of growth."

He emphasized three things an average person can do –use slow release fertilizers, have septic systems serviced every three-to-five years, and write to commisioners about the importance of keeping the springs clean.

Another would be keeping pesticide use to a minimum.

According to water quality studies, nitrate is the biggest problem. High levels can promote exotic plant growth and life-suffocating algae blooms.

When it came time for open discussion, one of the biggest concerns centered around the state of old septic systems in the watersheds.

Another was keeping sinkholes free of trash and contaminants.

"Sinkholes are like IV needles –veins conducting water,"Stevenson said.