Saturday, December 3, 2016

Water Visions: The Cost of Bad Decisions and the Value of Our Springs

How much does it cost to restore an ecosystem that’s been damaged by bad decisions? What is the economic impact of Florida’s springs on their surrounding communities? Do natural systems have a value that cannot be measured in dollars and cents?
As we face a future of declining flows and increasing pollution in Florida’s world-class freshwater springs, these are important questions that we should be asking our elected officials, our water managers and ourselves.
History tells us that it’s more expensive to fix a damaged ecosystem than it is to preserve it. Do a Google search for “costs of Everglades restoration” and look at the numbers that come up:  $8.2 billion, $10.5 billion, $16.4 billion. Yes, billions of dollars to be spent over decades—the results of bad decisions made years ago when we lacked a complete understanding of Florida’s complicated hydrology.
Fortunately, scientists have learned a lot in the intervening years. We now know what is causing the major problems that plague our springs. Long-term trends prove that we’re pumping too much water out of the aquifer that feeds those springs and we’re allowing too much pollution to enter our surface water and groundwater. Because of the porous, Swiss-cheese-like limestone that forms the aquifer, anything that enters surface water can also enter groundwater, the source of our drinking water.
Now that we know what’s causing the problems, we can begin to solve them, right? Not so fast. Slowing or stopping aquifer overpumping would require our water management districts to ratchet back on water use by denying or revoking water use permits, something they are loathe to do because of political pressure and the threat of lawsuits. Slowing or stopping pollution would require hard choices by state agencies and legislators about agricultural and urban fertilizers, wastewater treatment, and septic tanks—choices not likely to be made by people who want votes and hefty corporate donations for their re-election campaigns.
Could today’s bad decisions lead to a future in which it’s deemed “too expensive” to restore our springs to health? Might our springs be allowed to die, to devolve into dry sinkholes where once clean, abundant water flowed? Sadly, that’s already happened in some places.
The flip side of the cost of bad decisions is represented by the economic benefits that our springs generate. A recent study by Tatiana Borisova and others at the University of Florida found that the estimated annual economic contributions of springs-related recreational spending in North Central Florida for fiscal year 2012-2013 were:  $84.2 million in total visitor spending for springs recreation; $45.3 million in spending by non-local visitors; 1,160 full-time and part-time jobs generated; $30.42 million in labor income; $94.00 million in industry output (gross sales revenues); $52.58 million in value added, equivalent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP); $6.56 million in local and state government tax revenues, including property taxes of $4.13 million and sales taxes of $1.58 million; and $6.57 million in federal government tax revenues.
To use just one example, the researchers found that visitors to the Ichetucknee spent over $13 million annually and were responsible for the creation of 169 jobs, yielding a total annual economic value of over $16 million.
The researchers also pointed out that our springs have a value that extends beyond dollars and cents. Examples of such “ecosystem services” include providing food and fresh water, regulating floods and climate, supporting soil formation and nutrient cycling, and cultural services.
It’s this last item—cultural services—that’s most interesting to me because it demonstrates how not everything provided by our springs can be valued in money. What is the value of a spring’s beauty that inspires artists, photographers, musicians, and writers? What is the value of a spring to the non-human creatures—fish, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects—whose lives that spring supports? What is the value of a cold swim on a hot day? What is the value of a kayak paddle through a richly wooded landscape at dawn or under the full moon? What is the value of a baptism in pure, clear water or a group celebration at a place that a family has held dear for generations? What is the true value of unique, world-class ecosystems that have existed for thousands of years?
And who are we, who—in our carelessness and in our greed—are permitting those ecosystems to be destroyed?
The cost of bad decisions must be measured in more than money; it must be measured, finally, in our love for the natural world—a world that sustains not only our bodies but also our hearts and our souls. 


To learn more about…

…UF’s economic impact study of North Florida’s springs:

…the creativity our springs have inspired:

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Water Visions/Water Civics 101: How Your Vote Affects Our Water

You watched the Lower Santa Fe River almost dry up in a recent drought. You’ve heard about pollution and reduced flows that plague our springs. You’ve noticed brown algae on the eelgrass and murky water in the Ichetucknee. You’re worried about how industrial-strength agriculture might affect your well water. You don’t always trust your city water. But do you know how your vote in federal, state, and local elections affects our water?
All Floridians need to understand that the choices we make at the polls, including the people we elect to represent us, can either help or hurt our water. We should know who makes which decisions about water, how much they understand about Florida’s hydrology, what motivates them, and how to hold them accountable for their decisions.
Federal Government. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the organization charged with enforcing the Clean Water Act that was passed by Congress in 1972. The act was passed in response to growing public concern for controlling water pollution. When the EPA was challenged by environmental organizations in a recent lawsuit here in Florida, however, the courts allowed that agency to punt enforcement of water pollution standards back to the State of Florida.
Other federal laws have historically been interpreted to mean that state and federal laws pre-empt local laws and that business and commerce take precedence over environmental health.
Members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives are the people who enact federal laws, which may then be signed or vetoed by the president of the United States.
State Government. The state agency charged with controlling water pollution is the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The agencies that issue water use permits and are charged with making sure that we all have enough water are the five water management districts. Here in our area, that’s the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) headquartered in Live Oak.
The person who appoints both the head of FDEP and the directors of the water management districts—the leading decision makers in those agencies—is the governor of Florida. Because the agencies are allowed to exercise a certain amount of discretion over how they enforce our water laws, that puts a lot of power over our water in the hands of one person, the governor of Florida.
Members of the state legislature, the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives, make the laws that affect our water. Those laws may then be signed into law or vetoed by the governor.
Local Governments. Local (city and county) governments are responsible for enacting zoning laws and land use development regulations that determine where farms, residential developments, businesses and heavy industry can be sited. These governments also make decisions about the placement of city wells, wastewater treatment and utility plants, spray fields, and biosolids spreading areas. Depending upon whether the local utility company is publicly or privately owned, local governments may also be involved in decisions related to the operations of those companies.
What does this mean for us? While we won’t elect a new governor until 2018, there are opportunities to “vote for water” in the upcoming November elections. Here are some questions to consider.
Do you know the candidates in your federal, state, and local races? Do you know how they have voted on water issues in the past and whether their votes dovetailed with policies that were supported by local water advocacy organizations? (Remember that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.) If you don’t know the answers to those questions, can you find out, perhaps through the new accountability tools being developed by Florida Conservation Voters?
Many nonprofit organizations cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office, but they can tell you what policies they support. Florida Conservation Voters is a new statewide organization that is allowed to endorse and oppose candidates because of how they are structured under federal law.
Some other important questions to ask about your candidates:  Who is supporting them? Who are the biggest donors to their campaigns? If they already hold public office, do they vote with a bloc or are they independent thinkers who can give examples of situations when they had the courage to make controversial decisions? Do they understand Florida’s hydrology enough to describe how our springs, aquifer and drinking water are connected? Can they name three long-term trends affecting the water in their district? Will they admit that a healthy economy depends on a healthy environment, or do they see “environment” and “jobs” as opposing forces? When was the last time they swam in a spring or paddled a local river?
Perhaps most important of all:  Do you trust them to make wise decisions about our water?

To learn more about…

The U.S. EPA:

The Clean Water Act:

Florida DEP:

The Suwannee River Water Management District:

Florida Conservation Voters:

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 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, October 17, 2016

Tranceformation (from a dream)

I went down to the spring
to conjure a spell
but a spell was cast on me

watery script bubbled
out of the vent
“Be still and watch” it read

bending over the water
cupping my hand
I drank the elixir of youth

looked again across the spring
startled to encounter
wild panther at the water

sandy furred, green-eyed
the catamount
drank that elixir too

shocked and shifted
spirit lifted
gazed down again to see

not my face, but
a green-eyed cat’s
peering back at me


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Water Visions: Property-Based Law vs. Saving Our Springs & Rivers

In 2013, I attended a Democracy School run by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) because I was fairly certain that our laws needed to change in order for our springs and rivers to be fully protected.
The folks from CELDF quickly confirmed that insight. “The only things that environmental laws regulate are environmentalists,” they said. That quote by anthropologist Jane Anne Morris got my full attention! The rest of the weekend was just as eye opening.
Those of us who work to protect North Florida’s springs, rivers and aquifer repeatedly bump up against arguments about landowners needing to be able to do what they want with their private property. CELDF explained why we work so hard, yet have so little to show for that work; that’s because we are stymied by our country’s laws.
The instructors walked us through a stack of primary historical source materials that explained how our legal system is based on property law instead of on rights—meaning that since the time of the U.S. Constitution, our laws have been stacked in favor of business and commerce. Although subsequent social movements—the struggles for the abolition of slavery, for women’s voting rights, for gay rights, for animal rights—led to the granting of broader legal rights for different groups, those movements never challenged the basic legal primacy of the idea of property.
My notes reveal just how deep these property-based legal roots go. The early American colonies began as corporations. Our language has no good word that is the opposite of “privatization.” We heard that “The more nature you own, the more you can destroy.” Corporations were recognized as legal “persons” 70 years before that recognition was granted to women! Corporations can deduct the money they spend to fight environmental lawsuits as a business expense.
Say you’re a water advocate who wants to write a law to protect your community’s water supply, which is threatened by industrial-strength agriculture that uses tons of water and fertilizer. You are constrained by many laws, including the recognition of corporate legal rights or “corporate personhood” and the facts that property-based state and federal laws pre-empt local laws. These constraints prevent you from safeguarding your water with local laws.
Even worse, you aren’t permitted to define the problems that you see. If you describe a problem as, “Factory farms will harm us economically and environmentally,” various state, corporate, and cultural regulatory systems funnel that objection into regulatory “chutes” toward a single regulatory point that prevents you from making that argument and restricts you, instead, to arguments about the amount of environmental harm that should be permitted. You are not allowed to say “no” or to question the process or the big picture.
At the time our first property-based laws were written, the natural resources of North America must have seemed infinite to European colonists. But over 200 years later, that situation has changed. North America is inhabited from sea to shining sea and our population is mushrooming. We now realize that our supply of freshwater is finite. Industrial-strength agriculture and thirsty Florida lawns demand more water, more fertilizer, and more pesticides than the homes and family farms of the past. Long-term trends show a falling aquifer and increasing water pollution. Our laws have not kept pace with these changes in our society.
If we want to save our water, we need to start asking some hard questions that must be answered in the legal and political arenas.
>Should private property rights take legal precedence over the health of water we all need? We may own our cars but we don’t do anything we want with them; we agree to abide by traffic laws so we don’t kill each other. Shouldn’t we also agree not to poison our springs or wreck our aquifer?
Should natural systems such as our springs and the Ichetucknee, Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers be granted legal rights to exist? That would even the playing field in courts of law and is being done in other parts of the world. The Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry University Law School promotes this idea.
Should we manage our water conservatively as a public trust, the same way we’d manage a financial trust fund for our children? Arguments about public trust push the courts to consider cases on a different basis from property-based laws.
>Should we rely on the Precautionary Principle for guidance when scientists disagree about what is affecting our water? Again, other countries are already doing this.
It’s past time to acknowledge that our water problems are political and legal problems. Science alone won’t solve them. People working together in good faith might have a chance.

For More Information…

… on the work of Jane Anne Morris:

…on the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund:
(especially page 4)

…on the Center for Earth Jurisprudence:

…on the Precautionary Principle:

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 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, September 8, 2016

Water Visions: Changing Our Culture and Saving Our Springs With a Water Ethic

I was cleaning up files on my computer when I was struck by contrasting photographs of the Ichetucknee that were taken in two different decades.
One set of photos from the 1960s reveals the thriving, mirror-clear underwater world that I remember from my first tubing and snorkeling trips. The second set, taken recently, reveals an aquatic landscape that is by turns barren, greenishly murky and coated with brown algae.
What changed in the last 50 years?
Scientists tell us that the Ichetucknee has lost about one-quarter of its historical average flow because increased groundwater pumping—from within the springshed to as far away as Jacksonville—has reduced the amount of water available to the springs and the river. Pollution from lawn and agricultural fertilizers, stormwater runoff, and animal and human waste has fed the brown algae that darken the water and coat the once-green eelgrass.
These problems of reduced flow/supply and increased pollution now plague most of our springs, rivers and lakes in North Florida.
We can’t blame anyone else. We’ve done this to ourselves.
Imagine an alien anthropologist—let’s call her “AliAn”—looking at our culture from the outside, studying the ways we use and abuse water. AliAn would conclude that we place little monetary value on clean, abundant water and that we believe our behavior has no effect on our springs, rivers, or lakes. AliAn might also say that we are avoiding responsibility for being wise stewards of our water wealth and squandering long-term water security in exchange for short-term economic gains.
Why are we behaving like this? First, I think it’s because we haven’t emotionally acknowledged the international, spiritual, cultural, economic and ecological significance of the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth—the greatest concentration of freshwater springs in the world. Second, it’s because—in a classic example of “the tragedy of the commons”— individuals, elected representatives, and government agency heads have failed to make the difficult decisions required to keep our waters healthy. Third, it’s because we’re ignoring the fact that nitrate pollution in the springs is warning us of looming public health threats to our drinking water supply.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we can choose to change both our behavior and our culture.
Culture change happens in a myriad of ways, some “top down,” some “bottom up,” and others in combination. Top-down change requires visionary leadership that motivates people to adjust their behavior and/or enacts laws with stiff penalties for not doing so. Bottom-up change happens when people decide on their own to make individual changes that influence others and, eventually, the whole culture.
Given the lack of state-level water protection that has brought the Ichetucknee to its current murky condition, I think we the people must lead the revolution in the ways we are living with water if we want to save our springs. Luckily, Gainesville writer Cynthia Barnett has provided us with a way forward in her guidelines for a Florida water ethic.
Barnett’s guidelines grew out of her book, Blue Revolution:  Unmaking America’s Water Crisis, and are featured in the Ichetucknee Alliance’s display on view through August 27 at the Smithsonian’s Water/Ways exhibition in High Springs. According to Barnett, a Florida water ethic requires that: (1) Floridians value water, from appreciating local streams to being willing to pay an appropriate price for water; (2) We work together to pollute less and use less; (3) We try to keep water local in order to avoid the financial, environmental and energy costs of long-distance transfers; (4) 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; and (5) 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.

What can you do to promote this water ethic? Visit your local water body regularly and notice how it changes over time. Educate yourself about our water problems. Talk to your families, friends, co-workers and congregations. Contact your local water organization and learn how you can help by using your best talent—what you love to do—to support the work of that group. Attend and speak up at meetings of agencies that set or enforce public water policy. Communicate your concerns to your elected representatives. Know that elections are important. Vote wisely! Vote for people who are willing to make tough decisions and who will champion a new Florida water ethic.
Remember that silence indicates agreement with the status quo. If enough of us act, we can change our culture and save our springs.

To Learn More

Changes in the Ichetucknee

See the restoration plan prepared by the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute:

Tragedy of the Commons

This term describes what happens when people choose or are permitted to satisfy their personal economic desires in ways that damage a shared public resource, to the extent that the resource then becomes unavailable to some or all of the people who need it. See:

One popular argument for granting unlimited numbers of water use permits deals with private property rights:  “It’s my property and I can do whatever I want with it.” But what happens if that right affects the supply of clean water available to your neighbor or the Floridan aquifer? Many of us own cars, but we agree to follow traffic laws so we don’t kill each other on the road. Should a similar agreement to not damage our waters be part of a Florida water ethic?

Florida Water Ethic

Cynthia Barnett explains the idea of a water ethic in her book Blue Revolution:  Unmaking America’s Water Crisis (Beacon Press), named one of the 10 best science books of 2011 by The Boston Globe. Her guidelines for a Florida water ethic were originally published by the Collins Center for Public Policy in “Our Water, Our Florida.” Barnett has since revised those guidelines to include mention of pollution. See:

For more information about Barnett and her work, see:

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 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.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Water Visions: Why Aren’t Florida’s Water Laws Protecting Florida’s Water?

Memories are tricky. I’m often amazed at how my mental images of important experiences get foggy over time while memories of insignificant things remain clear.
Some of my most vivid memories are of seemingly minor events, snapshots of time spent in or near Florida’s freshwater springs.
In one snapshot, I’m standing on the bank of Ginnie Springs in 1969 with my geology professor, Jean Klein. We’re on a field trip and my classmates are wandering around, talking and laughing, but Jean and I have gone quiet as we stare into the shimmering mirror of the spring.
“You know,” Jean says, “if these springs ever get polluted, it will take Mother Nature thousands of years to clean them up.”
Forty-seven years ago, the idea that our springs could be polluted was laughable—but the bad news is that we have not been kind to our springs and they are polluted now.
To notice the effects of this pollution, you need a basis for comparison. You would have to remember, as I do, how the springs looked many decades ago. People who see the springs for the first time today or visit them only sporadically do not know what we have lost.
Scientific analyses of long-term trends in water quality and flow, however, give us vivid pictures of what we have permitted to happen.
According to the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI)—Florida’s only independent, nonprofit, scientific voice for our springs—long-term trends show that pollution in the Ichetucknee, Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers is going up while flows are going down. This combination is a double whammy that leads to algae growth, murky water and a looming public health threat since the nitrates (from fertilizer and human and animal waste) that pervade the springs also enter the Floridan aquifer and our drinking water.

Groundwater nitrate nitrogen (mg/L) concentrations throughout Florida and near the Ichetucknee (inset). All colored areas other than blue indicate human-caused pollution of groundwater. Source:  Ichetucknee Springs & River:  A Restoration Action Plan, p. 14, prepared by the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute.
In 1979, the State of Florida designated the Suwannee River as an Outstanding Florida Water (OFW). The Ichetucknee and Santa Fe rivers received the same designation in 1984. According to state law, these rivers should have been protected from further pollution as soon as they received the OFW designation. But according to FSI, that hasn’t happened.
Nitrate concentrations in the Lower Santa Fe River have been rising steadily since the 1960s. In 2008, the river was added to Florida’s Impaired Waters List. Average nitrate concentrations in some of the Santa Fe springs have increased by more than 3000 percent in the last 20 years.
During the first decade of this century, nitrate concentrations in the Ichetucknee headspring have increased more that 1500 percent. That spring received a D grade for nitrate levels and attached algae in the environmental report card FSI prepared in 2008.
Nitrate levels in the Lower Suwannee River have increased by 1500 percent above historic baseline levels.
Flows in our area’s rivers have fallen because of increased pumping of groundwater, periods of drought, and loss of aquifer recharge areas. According to professional geologist Jim Gross, every drop of water we use for our farms, ranches, businesses and homes means one less drop for our rivers and our springs. The expected influx of new residents escaping sea level rise in South Florida will only compound our water problems.
Local citizens are waking up to our water problems and becoming active. Recent flashpoints for public outcry include a large-scale chicken “factory” in a high aquifer recharge area near Fort White and a proposed phosphate mine on the New River—a tributary of the Santa Fe—in Union and Bradford counties.
What is happening here? For many years, Florida’s water laws served as model laws for the rest of the country. Why haven’t these laws protected our rivers and springs? Is the problem with the laws themselves? With their enforcement? With the complicated geology of our aquifer? With a combination of those problems? Or with something else?
Two attorneys—Heather Culp of FSI and Traci Deen of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry University Law School in Orlando—will discuss these issues at a free public program, “Why Aren’t Florida’s Water Laws Protecting Florida’s Water?” 7-9 p.m. Monday, July 25, 2016, at the High Springs New Century Woman’s Club, 23674 West US Highway 27, High Springs FL 32643.
The event is organized by the Ichetucknee Alliance and sponsored by the Alliance, Our Santa Fe River, and the Woman’s Club in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute’s Water/Ways exhibition at the High Springs Historical Museum. Audience members will have a chance to ask questions and there will be time for one-on-one conversations with the speakers at the end of the program.

To learn more:

Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI)

FSI has prepared restoration plans for many of our area’s springs and rivers. The plans are available free of charge at the North Florida Springs Environmental Center, 23695 W. U.S. Highway 27, High Springs, and may be viewed on line under the “Current Projects” tab at:

For more information about FSI, call 386-454-2427.

Center for Earth Jurisprudence (CEJ)

Located at Barry University Law School in Orlando, the mission of CEJ is to protect the rights of nature by developing a philosophy and practice of law that respects the natural world in its own right. Learn more at:

Video of the Water Voices program may be viewed at:

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 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 here.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Water Visions: We Live in the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth

I grew up swimming in Florida’s freshwater springs but I didn’t know until recently that we have more of these springs than anywhere else in the world.
There are over 1000 springs in North and Central Florida. Here in the Suwannee River Water Management District—which includes the watersheds of the Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ichetucknee rivers—we have over 300 documented springs.
So we don’t just live in the springs heartland of Florida. We live in the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth!
If all that water could be channeled into one giant spring, we would have a World Heritage Site or a National Park. But because our springs are scattered and have different owners, it’s hard for most of us to grasp the full international significance of these watery treasures.
And they are treasures—economic treasures, ecological treasures, and spiritual treasures.
We’re living in the middle of a world treasure map.
Wayne Kinard is a fifth-generation Floridian who comes face-to-face with the international importance of our springs every day at his business, Amigos Dive Center in Fort White. Surrounded by air tanks, hoses, and other SCUBA equipment, Kinard points out two marker boards crowded with the names and nationalities of people who have come to dive in our springs.

“I have 5800 customers from all 50 states and 88 countries,” Kinard says. “And I’m getting over 500 new customers a year.” Reading the marker boards is a visual trip around the world and proof that our springs and rivers are economic engines for rural North Florida.
Jerry Johnston is someone else who knows what a treasure we have in our springs and rivers. A professor of biology at Santa Fe College, Johnston is the founder and director of the Santa Fe River Turtle Project. At a 2014 meeting of the Santa Fe River Springs Protection Forum, Johnston explained that the world’s number one hotspot for turtle species diversity is Asia. The southeastern United States is the number two hotspot and within the Southeast, our area—the Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ichetucknee rivers—has the largest variety of turtle species. We’re number one in the world for springs and number two in the world for turtles!
Our springs and rivers are sources of life for countless other species including birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and plants. One tiny creature, the Ichetucknee silt snail, exists only in a 10-square-yard area along the Ichetucknee River.
Fifty years ago when I started exploring springs, they were not easy to find. Some springs had not yet become parts of state or county parks, signs were scarce and you had to be able to read topographic maps to locate them. I learned how to get to Poe, Ginnie, and Ichetucknee by word of mouth from people who had already been there.
Finding a spring today is much easier. The new North Florida Springs Environmental Center in High Springs has a high-tech, touch-screen version of a springs treasure map! Created in Google Earth by springs scientists, the map offers visitors a wealth of information.
In just a few minutes at the computer screen, you can search for a spring by name or location, zoom in to the map to locate other nearby springs, and find specific information including spring name, county, magnitude of flow, name of the basin that includes the spring, and latitude and longitude. Google Earth also provides directions to the spring of your choice.

The Springs Environmental Center is a new project of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI), a nonprofit, independent, science-based organization that advocates for spring restoration and protection and provides scientific information to other organizations that are working to save our springs.
“Over one million people travel through High Springs each year to visit our local springs,” says Heather Culp, associate director of FSI. “The North Florida Springs Environmental Center is a clearinghouse of information about our springs, rivers, and aquifers.”
In addition to exploring the springs map, center visitors may watch one or more of 15 available high-resolution videos, pick up free copies of the spring restoration plans prepared by FSI, and attend Springs Academy classes that are held at noon on the first Tuesday of the month. Academy classes are taught by Robert L. Knight, Ph.D., director of FSI. Brochures are also available about nearby parks with springs and water advocacy organizations such as Our Santa Fe River and the Ichetucknee Alliance.
With warm weather already here, it’s time to get outside and enjoy the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth. Remember that while Florida’s springs are the world’s to love, they are ours to take care of.

To Learn More

Amigos Dive Center
5472 SW Elim Church Road
Fort White, FL 32038
Owner:  Wayne Kinard

Santa Fe River Turtle Project
Director Jerry Johnston, Ph.D.

North Florida Springs Environmental Center
23695 W. U.S. Highway 27
High Springs FL 32643
(old address: 99 NW First Ave.)
Hours (subject to change without notice):
Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Springs Academy classes meet at noon on the first Tuesday of the month through September 2016. Classes are free although a $5 donation is requested.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 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 here.