Friday, September 15, 2017

Voices of the Wells

we were
the voices of the wells
before we were born
we chose

this time
this place
this world

to be

to speak

at the heart of the world

(c) 9/15/2017 

This is for everyone working to restore, protect and preserve Florida's freshwater springs.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


"The Snake Charmer," painting by Henri Rousseau

The Pythia has fled her cave at Delphi
overturned the three-legged stool in her haste
to escape the mobs of tourists
and their chattering cameras

She and her snake now wander
the groves the forests the wild places
sometimes in company of her cousin Artemis
more often alone

Pythia still speaks to those who recognize her,
who can decipher her prophecies
but hers is a complicated language
and you can only find her
deep within the woods
or in your dreams

But she will come if you call her
by using your Talent
or speaking for the Earth
for Justice
for Light in the dark time
for Love in the time of hatred

If you call her you will see her
standing there in the shadows
her snake wound ’round her arm


waiting for your question

© 2001

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rum Island: The Slow Death of a Small Spring

Time to Lose Our Lawns/Save Our Springs?

I moved to southern Columbia County with this phrase from “Cross Creek” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings echoing in my mind:  “We need above all, I think, a certain remoteness from urban confusion.” A bonus of that move was that almost right around the corner, there was a beautiful little blue spring at Rum Island on the Santa Fe River.

My visits to Rum have been fun, inspiring and soul-healing. I’ve seen the spring in bitter winter, when mists whirled on the water like dancing spirits. I’ve been followed by a school of tiny fish as I waded in golden water while the rising river encroached into the spring. I’ve gone swimming on a warm Christmas day, taken photos on a magic May morning when the last evening’s rain dripped from the trees, hiked to other small springs upriver. And I’ve seen the spring completely covered by dark river water, re-emerging only when the river receded.

And all that time, Rum Island Spring was slowly dying.

Yes, I knew that the Santa Fe River springs, like many of Florida’s springs, were in trouble because of pollution and declining groundwater levels. But it was a chance comment on a Facebook post that gave me a wake-up slap in the face.

Lars Andersen, river guide and owner of Adventure Outpost in High Springs, administered that “slap”:

Sadly, it looks like Rum Spring will be the next to go. It’s in the death throes…Santa Fe’s springs seem to be on the front line of the slow demise of all Florida’s springs…this browning of Rum Island at this relatively minor high water event is new. We’ve had occasional brownings in recent few years, but very rare and with higher water. It is now happening more frequently and with less river water to make it happen. This was the same pattern we’ve seen in Poe and Lily before they lost their color. While those springs aren’t completely brown, they now have a very apparent mix of brown river water and spring water even in the best conditions. Further upstream, the story is the same for Columbia and Hornsby Springs. It looks like Rum is following that pattern. It may get clear again—maybe even several times—but if the pattern holds, the color will slowly morph into the brownish/greenish mix of river water and spring water we’ve seen in the others…all of Florida’s 1000+ springs are losing their flow, some faster than others. The combined average of all the 300+ springs on and near the Suwannee basin have declined an average of 48%.

And in response to a question, Bob Knight of the Florida Springs Institute chimed in:

Lars and I have both been observing these declines for decades. Just as Poe stopped flowing during the 2012 drought, that tragedy will be coming soon to Rum.

These predictions from two trained observers put the fear in me, so I went looking for scientific data that would confirm their theories. I found it. Scientists have documented that Rum Island Spring had a discharge of 60.8 cubic feet per second (cfs) in 1990, 23.7 cfs in 2000, but only 15.8 cfs in 2010.*

I am unwilling to sit back, do nothing and allow Rum Island Spring to die. What about you?

If we agree that saving our springs is something we need to do…if we acknowledge that to do that, agriculturalists as well as homeowners must use less water and that implementing agricultural changes is going to take time…and if we want to do something now…one thing we can do is to lose our lawns, since lawn irrigation is usually the biggest use of water by homeowners.

What would a “Lose Your Lawn/Save Our Springs” effort or water ethic look like? What if…
  • Everyone in the area surrounding the Santa Fe River springs (ex:  Alachua, Columbia, and Gilchrist counties) who had a lawn quit watering it, fertilizing it, putting pesticides on it? Or installed rain barrels or gray water systems to use as alternatives to using groundwater?
  • We switched all or part of our yards from turf grass lawns to native plants, Florida friendly plants, groundcovers or wildflower meadows?
  • We made water conservation a top priority?
  • We convinced local governments and businesses to model this effort to save the springs and find ways to help homeowners and agriculturalists make needed changes? 

Could we do it? Will we do it? The alternative—a dry sinkhole where Rum Island Spring once flowed—is too tragic to contemplate. Yes, change is hard. But aren’t our springs treasures worth saving?

*Draft Report, Santa Fe River and Springs Environmental Analysis, Phase 1, Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, May 2017, Table 22, p. 97.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cold Spring Poems

the boardwalk to Cold Spring
passes through blue woods
alone at twilight
I hear voices murmur in the river
who comes with me
on this sacred journey?


the way to Cold Spring
used to be hidden
no signs, no roadmaps

you could only go with
someone who had gone before
or maybe follow scribbles
on scraps of old paper
directions from someone's mouth
to your ear

today the journey's open
not secret
maps, Facebook, newspapers
all point the way
for thousands

those crowds
don't know
what we have lost


the road to Cold Spring
shrouded in fog blanket
in half-light of dawn
rabbits, deer, fish
moon's reflection in water
my only companions


I was young when first I went to Cold Spring
when I left, I was gone for many years
I am old now, and returned
a bag of bones
floating in memories
of Love that will not die


through shaded glen
road rounds the island
to Cold Spring
whose feet trod here before?
whose will tread after?


Cold Spring
clear light
I empty myself
of my self
only Love remains


knowledge holder  awareness holder—
same word root as
he told me
past life points
to present, points
to future
down the clear stream
to Cold Spring


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Water Visions: Wrapping Up a Year of Columns With a Vision

It’s been fun to write these columns for a year, but it’s time to pass the baton so that someone else may contribute their thoughts to The Observer. I hope that my columns have helped you learn more about our aquifer, springs, rivers and the problems that plague them. Most of all, I hope the columns have inspired you to get involved with finding solutions to those problems.
The take-aways. Here’s a summary of what I hope are your take-aways from the past year.
We live in the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth, surrounded by more freshwater springs than anywhere else on the globe.
Our springs are economic, ecological and spiritual treasures—but the decisions we’re making and that our state agencies are making are damaging them.
Long-term trends show that groundwater levels and spring flows are declining and water pollution is increasing.
Every drop of water that we use is one less drop for our springs and rivers.
In our area, the porous limestone under our feet allows anything that reaches the ground to enter the aquifer that feeds our springs and provides our drinking water.
By not limiting the pollutants we’re allowing on the ground, we are using our aquifer, springs and rivers as sewers for waste that comes from septic tanks, agricultural and urban fertilizers, animal manure, wastewater spray fields, biosolids spreading areas, stormwater runoff, and pesticides.
We humans are interconnected with our springs, rivers and each other through the Floridan aquifer that provides our drinking water.
Our water problems are not scientific problems but people problems. Each of us is part of those problems, so each of us must be part of the solutions. (Remember that when we point one finger, several other fingers point back at us!)
Our water problems are also political problems. The governor of Florida appoints the people who make decisions about water use (the directors of the water management districts) and decisions about how Florida’s water laws are enforced (the head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection). Elections matter.
The vision. How can we begin to reverse the damage? What is our vision for the future? Here’s my version.
We understand that a mindset of “us vs. them” will not solve our problems.
We collectively agree that the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth is worth saving. We are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to do so.
We recognize that saving our springs—thereby saving the aquifer that provides our drinking water—requires profound changes in our behavior and in the culture that enables us to pollute and to use water faster than rainfall can replace it.
We realize that in the absence of visionary leaders, we are “it”—those behavioral and cultural changes are up to us. We accept personal responsibility for how we use water. We remember that silence means agreement with the status quo.
We know that since our water problems are multi-pronged, solutions must also be multi-pronged.
We encourage brainstorming, new questions, and bringing everyone to the table to identify creative solutions.
We adopt the guidelines for a Florida water ethic proposed by the Gainesville writer Cynthia Barnett:
  • Floridians value water, from appreciating local streams to being willing to pay an appropriate price for water.
  • We work together to pollute less and use less.
  • We try to keep water local in order to avoid the financial, environmental and energy costs of long-distance transfers.
  • We avoid the two big mistakes of our history:  over-tapping our natural supplies and over-relying on the costliest fixes that bring unintended consequences to future generations.
  • We leave water in nature—in aquifers, wetlands and rivers—so that our children and grandchildren, with benefit of time and evolving knowledge, can make their own decisions about water. 

We convince our water managers to adopt the Precautionary Principle:  In the absence of scientific agreement about the causes of or solutions to environmental problems, we choose the most conservative action—the action least likely to cause environmental harm. We remember that “conservative” and “conservation” come from the same root word.
We question whether we need changes to our laws. Should private property rights for a few trump long-term water security for all? Should we manage our water as a public trust, the same way we manage financial trust funds? Should our natural systems have legal rights to exist?
We remain conscious of the legacy we are leaving for our children. Taking a cue from the Native Americans, we consider the next seven generations when we make decisions about our water.
We educate ourselves about water issues and we vote wisely.
We agree that Water Is Life.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of "The Observer," a free monthly tabloid (circulation 5000 copies) distributed in the High Springs/Alachua/Newberry/Jonesville/Fort White areas of North Florida. Many thanks to publisher Barbara Llewellyn for her kind permission to post it here.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Water Visions: The Ichetucknee: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Public Meeting on Draft Ichetucknee Springs State Park Unit Management Plan, Photo by Eric Flagg

One Step Forward:  A Good Draft Park Plan. As part of my work for the Ichetucknee Alliance, I have been reviewing the new draft management plan for Ichetucknee Springs State Park. The plan is a good one that does not mention multiple or consumptive uses such as cattle grazing and hunting that have been floated as moneymaking ideas at some of our state parks. There is mention of timber harvesting, but only at specific sites where the Florida Park Service (FPS) wants to restore disturbed areas to more natural habitats, something the FPS already does routinely.
It’s heartening to read that the Park Service acknowledges what we already know, that the Ichetucknee is impaired by pollution and loss of flow. Since the plan urges that FPS cooperate with other state agencies to solve problems within the park, we might expect FPS to be an effective advocate for policies that could restore the Ichetucknee—except for the fact that some of those other state agencies are the ones that are trading the long-term health of our publicly owned rivers and springs for short-term private profits.
  Two Steps Back:  A Bad Water Supply Plan. A case in point is the new North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan that was approved by two water management districts, Suwannee River and St. Johns River, in January of this year. While the plan acknowledges that pumping from as far away as the St. Johns affects flows in the Ichetucknee area, the Directors and Advisory Board members of the Alliance found nothing in the plan to ensure the Ichetucknee’s restoration.
According to Florida law, the state is required to establish “Minimum Flows and Levels” (MFLs) for our rivers and springs. The idea was for the state to decide how much damage or reduction in flow it would allow before needing to create a recovery strategy for those natural systems.
In 2015, the state set an MFL for the Ichetucknee that disregarded much of the loss of historical average flow that had occurred since the mid-20th century. Even though the MFL recognized that the Ichetucknee should be “in recovery,” the decision to ignore part of its flow loss was an effective and convenient boon for people who are today requesting large water use permits throughout North Florida.
Florida law requires that a recovery strategy be developed “concurrently” with the MFL for any rivers that need to be in recovery. For the Ichetucknee, that time frame applied to the January 2017 adoption of the new North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan.
Florida law also requires that the water supply plan include specific information that shows how flow recovery will be accomplished. It’s that detailed information—prioritization of new water supply projects, cost, timing, benefit to flows, implementation schedule and funding commitments—which reviewers from the Ichetucknee Alliance failed to find.
While the new water supply plan mentions water conservation, there is no commitment to cap water use permits or to implement water use fees. Instead, there are plans to develop alternative water supply projects or ways to increase the amount of water that recharges the Floridan aquifer. Those projects could be expensive, however, and if they are funded by taxes—which seems very likely—that means the public will pay to replenish water that is being freely used by a few people and corporations to generate private profits. I’ve heard this situation described as “privatizing profits and socializing losses.”
Conclusion. So we weigh a good park plan (one step forward) with a bad water supply plan (two steps back). On March 17, 2017, the Ichetucknee Alliance filed a Petition for Administrative Hearing to challenge the water supply plan for its failure to provide the legally required recovery strategy for the river and springs. We’ll see what happens.
In the meantime, as usual, I’m left with questions.
If we can’t agree on a water conservation ethic, won’t the creation of expensive water supply projects simply lead to more and more water use?
Should the true costs of water use be factored into the costs of water supply permits?
Is it right for people to make private profits while publicly owned natural systems suffer as a consequence?
How do private legal rights intersect with the impairment of a critically needed public resource such as water?
Should we agree to limit the issuance of water use permits and if so, under what guidelines?
Should our laws focus on the amount of damage we are willing to allow to the Ichetucknee, or should they instead provide for its health?
Do we really want to save the Ichetucknee and are we willing to make sacrifices to do so?

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of "The Observer," a free monthly tabloid (circulation 5000 copies) distributed in the High Springs/Alachua/Newberry/Jonesville/Fort White areas of North Florida. Many thanks to publisher Barbara Llewellyn for her kind permission to post it here.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Water Visions: Healing Our Springs: The Holy Grail, the Wounded King and the Waste Land

Like many people, I grew up fascinated by the legends of Merlin, King Arthur, and the Holy Grail. The one idea in the Grail stories that puzzled me for years, though, was the legend of the Wounded King or Fisher King—the last keeper of the Holy Grail, the king whose wound is bound up with the Waste Land that he rules. When he heals, the land heals too. I finally grasped this connection on a deep emotional level when I watched the movie “Excalibur,” in the scene where the Waste Land comes back to life.
The longer I work on water issues in Florida, the more clearly I understand that profound connection between leaders and land.
My fascination with these old legends led me to read more and to discover that throughout the British Isles, many springs are considered sacred and some wells are recognized as holy. Even today, many communities continue an old tradition of “dressing” the wells as the seasons change. And people still make pilgrimages to visit the sacred springs.
Traditional societies and religions worldwide have recognized the special or even sacred nature of water for thousands of years. For an exhibition about springs that I worked on several years ago, I collected quotes about water from different faiths and cultures. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Water was enchantment, certainly. But it was also deeply feared and honored, held close to the heart in both mystery and awe. It was sacred. -Bill Belleville (writing about the Timucua who inhabited Florida at the time of Ponce de Leon)
  • I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. -The Bible, Old Testament, Isaiah 41:18
  • Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure. -St. Francis of Assisi
  • By means of water, we give life to everything. -Koran, 21:30
  • The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives. -American Indian Saying
  • Filthy water cannot be washed. -West African Proverb
  • You don’t miss your water ’til your well runs dry. -William Bell, American singer/songwriter
  • By perceiving ourselves as part of the river, we take responsibility for the river as a whole. -Vaclav Havel, Czech playwright/politician
  • Our bodies are molded rivers. –Novalis
  • The supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to. -Tao Te Ching #8, translated by Stephen Mitchell
  • When you drink water, remember the spring. -Chinese Proverb 

These quotes reveal how water and people are interconnected; they speak to the significance of a healthy relationship with water. “Water is life,” as the water protectors in North Dakota and here in Florida reminded us recently. Our bodies are up to 60 percent water. We can live about three weeks without food but only about three days without water. While water sustains us, we must in turn sustain water or suffer the consequences.
So what does the Grail legend about the Wounded King and the Waste Land have to do with the Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ichetucknee rivers and their springs?
I was at Rum Island one day after a swim when I passed a young woman standing on the bank gazing at the water. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I asked. Her response was immediate:  “It’s sacred.”
At the Ichetucknee headspring, area churches have baptized the faithful for years. Steven Earl’s book about the Ichetucknee is subtitled “Sacred Waters.” Talk to almost any spring visitor and these ideas about sacred water, reverence and rejuvenation (remember the “Fountain of Youth” legends?) crop up.
In the early years of the 21st century, we are not as far removed from the idea of sacred springs as we might think. But we’re polluting too much, pumping too much, and turning our “Holy Grail”—the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth—into a Waste Land.
In the Grail legends, the Wounded King and the land are healed when the knight Perceval asks the right question:  “Whom does the Grail serve?”
So I wonder:  Are we asking the right questions? Are we like the Wounded King? Is our wound the failure to understand that as water suffers, we must suffer too? Can we heal our springs and rivers by healing our relationships with water and with each other? Do we need a stronger water ethic?
And where are the leaders with the courage to make the tough decisions needed to convert a springs Waste Land back into a Springs Heartland?

To learn more about…

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of "The Observer," a free monthly tabloid (circulation 5000 copies) distributed in the High Springs/Alachua/Newberry/Jonesville/Fort White areas of North Florida. Many thanks to publisher Barbara Llewellyn for her kind permission to post it here.