Underground link to spring discovered

-A A +A
By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Scientists working with the state have determined that a Chiefland sinkhole that collects runoff water does in fact connect to Manatee Springs State Park and two other locations.

“As of today, we know that there is an absolutely unambiguous connection between the sink on (Northeast) Fourth Street and Manatee Springs,” Pete Butt, project manager for Karst Environmental Services, said.

On August 3, Butt and other scientists contracting with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection poured a pink tracer dye into the sink to try to figure out where the sinkhole water goes.

Butt said traces of the dye were found in the springs and two observational wells in cave tunnels close to the springs as early as day eight of their monitoring.

“It was easily moving at a mile a day,” he said.

And by the second round of monitoring—days 12 to 19—the dye levels got even stronger, Butt said.

He said the dye’s rate of travel was relatively fast.

    “It’s really paralleling what would be happening in a river.  That’s what this is, an underground river.”

    He said people need to be aware of the harm fertilizers, pesticides and fuels can cause to water quality. “People need to be vigilant about what they’re putting in their drains.”

    Butt also said none of the public or private wells being monitored showed any signs of dye.

    Sally Lieb, park manager for Manatee Springs, said, “We were not really surprised the dye came through.  And this test proves to the people that the water travels that far.”

    Lieb said the public is often skeptical or completely unaware about how water travels or why that’s important. “Everything that happens plays a part in water quality,” she said.

    She said it’s possible that the sinkhole, which has several storm water drains routed to it, has played a part in the park’s ongoing problem of pollution in the spring water.  But she also said there are many other factors contributing to the problem, and that it would take more studies like this to complete the picture.

    But for now, she said she’s glad the process has begun.

    “The Springs Initiative, since it formed in 2000, has enabled us to learn a great deal about the springs.”

    Doug Jones of Citrus County, was visiting the springs with his wife, Glee, one afternoon last week. He said the couple has been coming to the springs since the 1960s.

    “We used to spend our whole vacation on the Suwannee,” he said.

    He said the area has changed a lot over the years, and he’s concerned that the state’s growing population and continuous construction are becoming a big problem for the area’s natural resources.

    “It’s still a pretty place,” he said.  “But the state can invest a lot more in conservation, as far as I’m concerned.”