This morning I blended a banana, a tablespoon of peanut butter, some strawberries, some blueberries, and a cup of soymilk for a breakfast smoothie. I was rinsing the blueberries at the kitchen sink when I noticed the label on the package: Clear Springs Blueberries out of Bartow, Florida. The graphic shows an exuberant tree and the sun rising over a clear blue stream that flows through the landscape. Nice image, I thought, that conveys clean growing conditions and a healthy product (and my smoothie tasted great!).
Then I started thinking about the many ways that Florida businesses, as well as state agencies like Visit Florida, use the idea of “clear springs” in their marketing efforts. How many developments and shopping centers are named for a river or a spring? How many food products? How many ads throughout the United States and the world tout our pristine waters? Surely the fact that we have the largest number of freshwater springs in the world has been a boon to marketers of all things Florida, dating back to shortly after Ponce de Leon’s landing in 1513—when the myth of the Florida’s fountains of youth took hold in the world’s collective imagination.
Speaking of 1513 and the fountains of youth, next year—2013—is the 500th anniversary of Ponce’s landing, years before the Jamestown colony in Virginia and the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. You can bet your orange blossoms that businesses throughout the State of Florida are going to play up that “fountain of youth” theme all year long.
Florida’s businesses and tourism boards would be crazy not to use our fountains of youth in their advertising, except for the small, troubling fact that most of our fountains—our crystal springs of myth and marketing—may be gone by then.
Freshwater springs used to dot the landscape of the whole state. All the springs in South Florida are now gone; there are thousands if not millions of people who call Florida home who have never seen a spring. Many of the over 900 springs in North Florida are dead or dying at an alarming rate, victims of increased water use and aquifer depletion that correspond to population growth as well as consumptive use permits that are handed out by our water management districts (WMDs) to everyone who wants our water. Our WMDs (weapons of mass destruction?) seem to have no regard for the amount of water that needs to remain in natural systems in order for those systems—and, by extension, the drinking water for most of North Florida’s population—to survive.
This list of dead and dying springs—dead to flow or dying by pollution—is by no means complete: Fenholloway, Hampton, Kissingen, White, Worthington, Marion Blue, Hornsby, Royal, Convict, Suwannee, Buzzard, Sulphur, Health, Gemini, Green, Rock, Pitt, Hunter, Blue Hole, Volusia Blue, Bronson Blue, Rainbow River, Fanning. I’m certain there are more names that could be added.
To add insult to injury, there is now a consumptive use permit pending at the St. Johns River Water Management District for a cattle ranch and slaughterhouse, Adena Springs Ranch (note the “springs” in the title), that would draw as much water as the City of Ocala from the springshed of Silver Springs while adding tons of cow manure, a primary source of nitrates that cause the algae blooms and pollution that is killing our springs. Adena “Springs” Ranch is being sold to Ocala and Marion County as an economic boon that would create about 100 jobs. Yet a 2004 Florida Department of Environmental Protection study showed that Silver Springs, Florida’s original and still premier tourist attraction, is responsible for over 1,060 jobs and over $61 million in annual economic benefits.*
And there are people who think that if the consumptive use permit for Adena Springs Ranch is granted, that will sound the death knell for Silver Springs.
If and when the Adena Springs Ranch permit is issued and Silver Springs is lost, Ocala stands to lose 900 jobs and over $61 million. This tradeoff makes absolutely no sense to anyone but the owner of Adena Springs Ranch—but such are the consequences of a permitting process that fails to take into account the costs of bad decisions about our water. (Case in point: the Everglades, with restoration costs now in the billions of dollars.)
An even more curious thing about Adena Springs Ranch is that site preparation is already underway before the consumptive use permit for water has been issued! I can only shake my head and file this information away under “things that make me go ‘hmmmmm…’.”
The Florida Constitution, Article II, Section 7(a), reads: “It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and of excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources.”
It’s clear to me that the State of Florida is not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to our natural resources. I think it’s past time for us to raise a little hell.
Don’t wait to act until no water flows from your tap. Here are some things you can do right now.
Visit the website of Audubon of Florida, where you can send a message to our governor and the members of the St. Johns River WMD that you want Silver Springs to be saved.
Join and get involved with your local springs working group or springs friends group. Educate yourselves about what is going on with our water. Read Mirage and Blue Revolution by Cynthia Barnett; your local library probably has these books. Use less water and demand the same from agriculture and industry.
Talk to your friends, family members, co-workers, and church groups; get other people involved. Find businesses and agencies that use clean water in their marketing, and ask them to speak out for Florida’s waters. Be persistent; why should businesses stay silent while the very things they use to tout themselves are lost? Visit your local legislators and let them know you care about our water and are troubled to see our springs being lost, because if they don’t hear from you, they assume you’re okay with the status quo. We need a massive public outcry to turn this situation around. Remember that our springs can’t speak; we have to speak for them.
And finally—pray, because we need a miracle.
*Information from Dr. Robert Knight of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute.