When the Springs Run Dry

Posted by Henry Taksier, November 8, 2011

Above: An egret swipes a fish out of the water at Ichetucknee Springs. Photo by Henry Taksier.

As the sunlight fades over Adventure Outpost, a small shop along Highway 441, Lars Anderson returns his paddles, kayaks and canoes to their proper place after leading travelers down the Santa Fe River.

Anderson, who wears a brimmed hat and speaks with a Florida accent, says he spent his childhood in Gainesville and explored the springs whenever he could. These days, he leads tours along 60 different waterways in north and central Florida, and he gives three to four tours in a typical week.

“I just want people to have a great time with nature,” he says. When Anderson isn’t managing his shop, leading tours or writing travel guides, he studies conservation issues affecting the springs. “The future looks pretty grim with Rick Scott and the likes,” he says, closing his shop for the night. “There are people [in power] who want to ignore science in favor of their own short-sighted agendas.”

Anderson, who serves on the advisory board of the Florida Springs Institute, does whatever he can to educate others. Working groups throughout the state have gathered a solid collection of data, which indicates over-pumping, nitrate pollution, and irresponsible land use. They’ve also presented solutions. The next step is action, which at this point is lacking.

“With legislators standing in the way, people are sitting at these working groups, coming out with all this great research,” he says. “But the solid action is up against a brick wall. We’ve reached a low point in recent decades.”

Since 2001, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spent up to $2.4 million each year on its Florida Springs Initiative program, which sought to identify problems facing the springs and solve them through research, education, outreach and restoration. The initiative also funded working groups, which brought together shareholders to better understand the issues associated with individual springs.

This year in July, state administrators abruptly ended funding for the Florida Springs Initiative. As a result, four of the most established working groups, which focused on Silver, Rainbow, Wakulla and Ichetucknee Springs, have been discontinued. A three-year contract to maintain the working groups and write restoration plans for each of the four springs has been prematurely terminated.

Florida’s leaders spent up to $24 million to keep the Florida Springs Initiative running throughout its ten-year existence. Comparatively, Florida has at least 900 artesian springs, known for their clarity and vibrant color, which contribute more than $300 million to the state economy each year through recreation and eco-tourism.

Continued via The Fine Print: When the Springs Run Dry

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