District is committed to springs protection on multiple fronts

July 1, 2021

The spring run at Silver Springs.

The spring run at Silver Springs.

Floridians are passionate about the many springs found throughout the Sunshine State, and the St. Johns River Water Management District is equally passionate about these waterways. As part of our daily core missions focus of water quality, water supply, flood protection and natural systems, we work to protect springs by providing cost-share funding, setting minimum flows and levels (MFLs), acquiring public land, water supply planning, practicing and preaching water conservation, collecting and analyzing data, and through our regulatory/permitting processes — just to name a few.

The St. Johns District is home to numerous springs, including eight Outstanding Florida Springs, making protecting Florida’s springs and the Upper Floridan aquifer that sustains them a high priority for the District. The challenge for water managers is protecting the environment while meeting people’s water needs and allowing for our continued enjoyment of these unique natural resources.

Our commitment to springs shows through our Governing Board’s actions, having awarded $58.10 million for springs protection projects between 2014 and June of this year, through our District cost-share programs. Adding funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and cost-share recipients, more than $250 million has been invested in 154 projects, resulting in an estimated 78.1 million gallons per day (mgd) of alternative water supply, 4.61 mgd of water conserved, an estimated total nitrogen (TN) load reduction of over 1.1 million lbs./yr. and an estimated total phosphorus (TP) load reduction of nearly 163,000 lbs./yr.

These collaborative efforts involve a transparent and public process to evaluate and prioritize projects for funding.  Please visit our website for additional information and consider attending our Governing Board meetings to voice your opinions about recommended projects. It is through the long-term cumulative implementation of many projects performing year over year that the anticipated benefits will become more apparent. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

One of our most recent springs protection projects is a cost-share project with Orange County Utilities in the city of Apopka, where we joined partners June 18 for a groundbreaking ceremony on a project to help improve water quality in Wekiwa Springs. In this multi-phased project, more than 2,000 septic tanks in 20 neighborhoods will eventually be converted to central sewer system. In Phases I and II, the county plans to convert septic tanks on 367 properties in the Sweetwater West, Wekiva Highlands, and Palms neighborhoods to a central sewer system, reducing TN by an estimated 3,075 lbs./yr. Total construction cost is $16.5 million and the District and DEP are contributing over $7.5 million.

Another remarkable project is the Ocala Wetland Recharge Park, which officially opened in April and benefits Silver Springs’ minimum flows and levels. The District partnered with the city of Ocala and DEP on the 33-acre wetland park.  The wetland vegetation is designed to treat 3 to 5 million gallons per day of stormwater and reclaimed water prior to recharging the Upper Floridan aquifer. This nearly $8.4 million project will provide 3.6 cubic feet per second of increased flow to Silver Springs. The project also is estimated to reduce TN loading into the Silver Springs springshed by 59,000 lbs./yr. and TP loading by 30,000 lbs./yr. This project is receiving national attention and was recently selected to receive a National Innovation in Conservation Award from the National Recreation and Park Association, an award that will be presented in September, recognizing the additional project benefits of passive public recreation water resources projects. Of the total construction cost of $8.36 million, the District and DEP contributed nearly $4 million.

The Volusia County Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) project will benefit Volusia Blue Spring. This completed project involved expansion in capacity and improvement in treatment level to increase nitrogen removal from the Volusia County Southwest Regional Water Reclamation Facility (WRF). The project also included decommissioning of the Four Towns Wastewater Package Plant, with those flows being redirected to the Southwest Regional WRF for AWT treatment. The estimated nutrient load reduction water quality benefit is 27,000 lbs./yr. TN and 14,000 lbs./yr. TP. Of the total construction cost of $12.12 million, the District and DEP contributed $7.5 million.

Through rigorous scientific investigation, we gain critical insights about spring challenges and potential solutions. A key tool is the development of MFLs. District scientists have been actively developing protective MFLs for several Outstanding Florida Springs. The science behind setting MFLs is some of the most complex work we do. We have learned a great deal about what is causing reduced spring flow in priority springs systems, but it’s important to keep in mind that MFLs do not protect against rainfall deficits or against nutrient loading. MFLs serve to prevent significant adverse impacts due to pumping, while other programs and strategies, such as DEP’s Total Maximum Daily Load process and the resulting Basin Management Action Plans, address water quality challenges in springs as well as rivers and lakes.

District staff are committed to protecting and enhancing the flow and quality of Florida’s springs and safeguarding them through appropriate collaborative strategies and projects. You can learn more about springs in our 18-county region and the work the District and partners are doing to protect these treasured waters at www.sjrwmd.com/springs.

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