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  • 04 May 2018 9:21 AM | Tess Skiles (Administrator)

    Written by Florida Springs Institute Board Member, Dave Wilson

    Sweetwater Wetlands provides an interesting combination of both engineering innovations and wildlife benefits.  Bob Knight began the outing by discussing the design aspects of the project.  His initial remarks included comments on the challenges, the cost, the effectiveness, and the benefits of the design. 

    The challenges included the 20-30 years it took to convince the City fathers that the project was worthy of the $25 million cost.  The project was given a boost when a $45 million dollar price tag for a new wastewater treatment plant was considered as an alternative.  A second challenge is the enormous quantity of trash that flowed into Paynes Prairie when Sweetwater Creek overflowed.  The new design includes a flat concrete catchment basin to facilitate periodic trash removal. 

    Another important aspect of the design is the three cells where denitrification occurs.  In the aerial photo below the cells appear as a gator head with the overflow channel separating the first cell from the other two.  Bob explained that the gator teeth in cells two and three are actually part of the design to slow the movement of the water so more complete nitrate removal occurs. While most wetlands treatment projects have a boring rectangular design, this one definitely has an artistic touch!

    Aerial Photography by Aero Photo and Wharton-Smith, Inc.

    Bob remarked that the nitrate levels in the water entering the distribution channel are virtually zero, a great improvement over the old systems.  Since this water will reenter the Floridan Aquifer at Alachua Sink and disperse to our springs, rivers, and sources of drinking water, not enough can be said concerning the importance of this project.    

    Despite the fact that our outing took place months after the migratory nesting season had ended, on our stroll around the wetland’s paths we observed birds and gators galore.  Osprey, limpkins, purple gallinules, and great blues were among the birds sighted. 

    Here are two limpkin photos.  The first pair is dining on an apple snail.

    The second pair of amorous limpkins put on quite a show.

    The next photo captures the spectacular colors of the purple gallinule, who was nesting almost out of sight in the weeds.

    A couple of whistling ducks are out for a stroll.

    Finally, we cannot forget the mama gator and her babies.

    All in all we had an informative and enjoyable day at the wetlands.  Some members of our group have made this pleasant spot part of their daily routine.  The rest are tempted to visit more often. 

    Photography by Tessa Skiles

  • 17 Apr 2018 9:15 AM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    By Dave Wilson

    On this hike, the Florida Springs Institute combined with St. Johns Riverkeeper for a day hike through Seminole State Forest.  Led by Jane Durocher of Riverkeeper, Heather Obara of FSI, and Ranger Ralph Risch we hopped from a conversation with a scrub jay to three small unknown (to most of us) springs.  

    The first stop was a mile or so along the appropriately named Sand Road, where Ralph called a nesting pair of scrub jays to welcome us to the forest.  He kept this excellent show in motion for 20 minutes by tossing peanuts along the side of the road.  Since this bird requires a scrub habitat for its survival, controlled burns are routinely conducted.  In the second picture displayed below you can see smoke from such activity.  Most of us had never seen this magnificent bird before. 


    The next stop was Sharkstooth Spring, aptly named for the abundance of sharks teeth found in the small run.  

    Unfortunately, this charming spring had been seriously damaged by unlawful digging.  Ralph expressed his indignation and frustration that a self-appointed fossil expert had not only chopped his way into the side of the bank, but saw no reason not to do so.  For this outrage the guy was fined only $55.00.   


    Ralph indicated a special affection for our next stop, Helene (pronounced Helen) Springs.  Not only is the spring lovely, but he discovered it and named it after his wife.  (Smart man.)  This spring has a distinctive rotten eggs aroma and bacteria that feed on the Sulphur producing a grey algae looking slime.   


    The third stop was Moccasin Spring, which was a bit larger than the others, but still lovely.  While Ralph had warned us about snakes, the only injuries were a few fire ant bites. 

    Finally, we enjoyed lunch at picnic tables along Blackwater Creek.  Unlike the other stops this waterway can actually be canoed.  However, you had better be prepared for narrow runs and lots of hazards along the way. 

    All in all, we had an excellent day in a forest most of us had never heard of before.  Thank you Jane, Heather, and Ralph for a fun time in the forest.   

    Here is a map of the trails in the forest.

    For more information on Seminole State Forest click here

  • 01 Mar 2018 11:56 AM | Tess Skiles (Administrator)

    Despite easy access near Live Oak, Holton Creek is a virtually unknown spot.  Outing leader and biologist, Tom Morris, chose this venue as a natural progression from last month’s exploration of the sink at the Alapaha Dead River!  The connection between the Dead River Sink and the rise at Holton Creek was established last year by the Florida Geological Survey when they dumped 100 pounds of fluorescein dye into the Dead River swallet.  It reappeared at the Alapaha Rise within eight days and at the nearby Holton Creek Rise in ten days.  This experiment showed that there are at least two conduits transporting the water over 12 miles underground between the two locations!  The Alapaha Rise and the Holton Creek Rise are both first magnitude resurgences, flowing up to 800 cfs and 500 cfs, respectively.  Both resurgences are major tributaries to the upper Suwannee River!

    On this outing our group of 34 hikers met at the Busy Bee Truck stop at Exit 283 off Interstate 10.  After everyone showed up, we caravanned 15 minutes to the trailhead at the Holton Creek Wildlife Management area, where Tom laid out the plans for the day.  Basically, the plan was a simple choice.  Follow Tom or stay near the road so you don’t get lost. 

    For those of us who followed Tom we bushwhacked through the quiet woods to the spring which serves as the source of Holton Creek.

    The Holton Tract is loaded with scores of valleys, all waiting to be explored.  The valleys appear to be formed by a combination of limestone solution and erosion by fast moving water when the Suwannee is in a flood state.

    The first animal uncovered was a gray tree frog, which were plentiful near the creek.  Note the golden spots on the inner thigh, which is a diagnostic feature. 

    Tom Morris brought some forestry tools, including a diameter tape and an increment bore to measure tree diameter and age.  The tape measure divides the circumference by pi so no math skills are required by the user (D=C/pi). 


    The young and strong Noah Jones volunteered to screw the boring tool into the tree to extract a core.  

    Debbie Spiceland is holding up the core to show the growth rings.  This particular tree was about 30 years old!

    The the age of the Live Oak picture below was discussed during the hike as well. Live Oak wood is hard and dense so the boring tool will not work on them. 

    A not so fun fact: The only way to age a live oak is to cut it down.

    Rachael Nutter decided to climb it!

    Someone also spotted a luna moth!

    Note the hefty thorns on the Water Locust Tree below.  They are usually more numerous than this and typically extend about 20 feet up the trunk.  It has been hypothesized that the thorns evolved to deter the, now extinct, giant ground sloths of the Pleistocene! Do not walk barefoot around the Water Locust Tree, as thorns do fall to the ground!

    Atamasco lilies were common ground cover.  Do not eat.  They are poisonous.

    And finally, we arrived at the confluence of Holton Creek and the Suwannee River.

    All in all, we had a great day strolling through the woods and it was one of our largest Springs Outing groups yet! 

    Written by FSI Board Member, Dave Wilson

  • 31 Jan 2018 5:57 PM | Tess Skiles (Administrator)

    5 Lawn Care Tricks that Save Water for Our Springs from FSI Springs Supporter Business Member, Tom Snogles, founder of Sun Power Lawn Care, a Gainesville, FL electric lawn care business dedicated to quiet, sustainable service.

    What does a lawn mower in downtown Gainesville have to do with a catfish in Wakulla Springs?

    Like almost everything in Florida, this lawn mower plays a part in the catfish’s health and security--and that of the whole ecosystem surrounding it.

    If the mower runs on gas, cuts the turf super short, and participates in any other poor lawn care practices, it’s putting unnecessary stress on the Florida aquifer--the source of freshwater for our local springs and all the wildlife dependent on it.

    With our aquifer already subject to overpumping and pollution, any additional stress poses a serious risk to the fish, birds, manatees and all other animals and plants that need freshwater to survive.

    As a Gainesville-based lawn care professional, I see opportunities to conserve water and support our springs every day. I’d like to share my sustainable lawn care expertise to help us replenish and strengthen the Florida aquifer, one yard at a time. 

    1. Keep Grass Cut Tall

    The height of grass might seem like a purely aesthetic choice, but it can actually have a significant impact on the health and sustainability of your lawn.

    Think about it like this: a short blade allows more sunlight to hit the ground, drying out the soil and roots. This forces you to irrigate more to keep the grass bright and happy. The more you irrigate, the more water gets pumped from Florida’s aquifer.

    We recommend cutting St. Augustine grass (the most common turfgrass in North Central Florida) to between 4 and 6 inches during the summer, or 3.5 and 5 inches during the winter.

    2. Go Electric

    I founded Sun Power Lawn Care with a dream to cut pollutants out of the lawn care industry. Instead of traditional gas-powered lawn equipment, we use electric, solar-powered equipment.

    The obvious benefit is that we’re not emitting pollutants into the air as we work. But for our springs, we’re also minimizing run-off pollution to the aquifer, since our equipment won’t spill or drip gasoline onto the ground.

    And there’s an additional surprise benefit: electric lawn care is extremely quiet. Whether you have a newborn at home, work from home, or just want to reduce noise pollution in your community, electric lawn care could be a great option.

    3. Get a Rain Barrel

    Rain barrels provide chemical-free, naturally soft water for your lawn and landscaping--all while supporting our local springs and shrinking your water bill.

    A rain barrel typically sits under a home’s gutter so it can collect rainfall from the spout. A standard residential rain barrel holds about 50 gallons. That will quickly add up to hundreds of gallons of recycled rainwater--and hundreds of gallons of conserved water for the aquifer.

    4. Check for Irrigation Leaks or Clogs

    An important key to protecting our springs is to avoid irrigation on your property (more on this below). However, in HOAs or other properties where it's necessary, ensure your system puts the least strain on our aquifer.

    Inefficient irrigation systems pose one of the most preventable threats to Florida’s springs. We frequently find leaks, clogs, or faulty valves forcing a sprinkler system to waste water, often without the homeowner having any idea.

    A professional irrigation check will identify and repair these issues so you’re not pumping any water that you don’t need. Best of all, it’ll bring your water bill down, too.

    5. Opt for Mulch and Plant Beds

    What if you could have a lush, diverse, totally unique yard--and one that barely needs water? Consider a landscape crafted from beautiful shrubs and flowers on a bed of mulch, which requires much less watering than regular turfgrass.

    You can even take it a step further with Florida Friendly Landscaping, which harnesses low-maintenance plants and other non-turf landscaping elements to create a beautiful space that doesn’t require substantial irrigation.

    The key principle is “right plant, right place.” In other words, placing plants in optimal conditions (the right amount of sun, the right type of soil, etc.) helps them stay beautiful and happy without lots of watering or chemical fertilizers. 

    Interested in learning more about sustainable lawn care? Wondering how electric mowing, irrigation checks or mulch services might benefit your property? Sun Power Lawn Care is happy to answer questions and provide a free quote for services. Contact us at 352-507-5296 or info@sunpowerlawncare.com.

  • 25 Jan 2018 3:20 PM | Tess Skiles (Administrator)

    First Magnitude Brewing Company has been an avid springs supporter since opening in 2014, hence their springs themed name "First Magnitude". They have named close to a hundred beers including pilot batches and year-round beers after our springs and rivers! First Magnitude has taken their love for our local water resources farther than most.  For the past three years, they have raised thousands of dollars through fundraising events that support local environmental organizations. This year, First Magnitude selected the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute to be the beneficiary of the annual 7.2k Springs Run. To increase their impact, First Magnitude added to the day’s festivities with their first ever Springs Festival. The first Springs Fest was organized by First Magnitude and members of the bands Aquanova and Locochino, who are known not only for their great music, but also their work with select charities in the Gainesville area.

    Thanks to the hard work of First MagnitudeFlorida Springs Institute staff, and over twenty volunteers, the group was able to pull off the most successful Springs Run yet! Close to 600 runners from all over the state participated in Saturday's events and helped raised over $10,000 for springs education

    Florida Springs Institute Associate Director, Heather Obara, and First Magnitude President and Co-founder, Christine Denny prepping for the race!

    Florida Springs Institute staff and volunteers checking Runners into the race!

    The Springs Run course led runners from First Magnitudes parking lot, around the new Depot Park, and up the Hawthorne trail. The turnaround point was appropriately marked just past Boulware Springs so that once runners arrived back to First Magnitudes main parking lot, they had completed a total of 7.2 kilometers. As some of you may already know, the springs maintain a temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. It was a record setting event for some, with the fastest runner arriving back at the brewery in just over 24 minutes! After returningfirst place winner John Sansalone told the crowd that he did it "for the beer and for the springs"! For those looking for a shorter distance and more relaxed pace, a one-mile fun run was offered following the start of the race.

    2018 Springs Run first place winner, John Sansalone, after arriving at the finish line!

    Following the Springs Run, Springs Fest took over at the brewery from 2-11PM. Springs Fest attendees were given the opportunity to explore vendors and take part in the "Spring Water Challenge" created by the organization, Play Hard Florida, founded by Carmine Oliverio. Guests also enjoyed performances by well-known bands, trapeze artists, jugglers, and even a screening of the Wes Skiles film, Water's Journey: Hidden Rivers of Florida. The Florida Springs Institute continued to raise money throughout the night with a raffle tickets and wristbands that offered guests discounts on beer and artwork. The Florida Springs Institute already has big plans for the money raised during these events to support its annual Give Springs a Break educational retreat for college students on April 6-8

    Florida Springs Institute Executive Director, Dr. Bob Knight, talking about springs protection and the Florida Springs Institute after the race!

    Overall, the day was a huge success for the springs community. Our organization intends to continue working with businesses like First Magnitude, who share the goal of saving Florida's drinking water. After all, we all drink from the same "source", and when we join together, we can make a much larger impact.

  • 15 Nov 2017 8:19 PM | Tess Skiles (Administrator)

    Despite chilly breezes and overcast skies, Tom Morris led 29 outings enthusiasts through the karst region surrounding Suwannee River State Park. To start the trip, Tom used samples to explain the differences between Ocala limestone, Suwannee limestone, and chert. Limestone is calcium carbonate or CaCO3; the Ocala Limestone is soft and crumbles in your hand; the Suwannee Limestone is hard; while chert is silica dioxide with formula SIO2.  

    He also brought along a fossilized mastodon rib bone and his pet cave crayfish. Before heading to the trail, Tom took us by a pole marked with the peak flood levels of the Suwannee during the past 70 years.  The year 1948 tops them all. The first stop along the three mile loop trail was Lime Creek Run, which was dry despite the Irma flood. 

    Lime Sink Run

    The next stop was Little Gem Springs, a small but charming spring bubbling into the Suwannee.  We all agreed this beauty deserved its name. 

    Little Gem Spring, Suwannee River State Park

    Along the path to Lime Sink, Tom identified blue beach, pignut hickory, sparkleberry as well as a multitude of other flora. Lime Creek Spring provided a quiet setting before heading back to the parking lot for lunch, where some sprinted off to check out the Withlacoochee convergence. 

    Lime Sink, Suwannee River State Park

    After lunch we headed to Falmouth Springs two miles East on Route 90. The water in this spring flows underground to Lime Sink and Little Gem. As a SCUBA diver, Tom also let us know that divers had explored more than 5 miles of underground passageways from Falmouth. It is mind blowing to think people could (or would) accomplish such a feat.

    Falmouth Spring

    The next stop was Withlacoochee Rapids, where only Tom knew how to find the place in this off road ramble. The view of the rapids was spectacular. A number of us are ready to paddle it soon.

    Withlacoochee River Rapids

    The final stop was the magnificent Madison Blue Springs, where despite the chill several brave souls jumped in for a quick dip. 

    Madison Blue Springs, Withlacoochee River

    While we all enjoyed a beautiful day at a park seldom visited, we should also mention that the park is threatened by nitrate pollution from the nearby chicken processing factory and other agricultural operations. A recently settled consent order has forced effluent limitations on concentrations of total nitrogen, which is a step in the right direction. While we hope to preserve this beautiful wonder, we have a wait and see attitude.

    (Photo by John Moran) A local farm pumping contaminants directly into the Suwannee River

    In summary, the outing was fun, educational, and introduced us to parts of Florida we never knew existed. Many members of the group are ready for new adventures. 

    A hike up the Alapaha River is first on the list. See you on the river!

    Written by Dave Wilson, Florida Springs Institute Board Member 11/14/17

  • 31 Aug 2017 3:46 PM | Tess Skiles (Administrator)

    This year's Springs Field School was a wonderful success! Students from around the state joined us in the Ocala National Forest for four full days of springs exploration and education. With a great group of students, presenters, and some incredible sights, it was one of our best years yet.

    Dr. Bob Knight and guest speakers, Bob Palmer, Jim Gross, Christine Denny, Monica Ross, Eric Hutchenson, Nathan Reaver, Whitey Markle, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, Guy Marwick, and Lars Anderson joined us to teach about the ins and outs of Florida's water resources and their conservation. The course covered springs biology, ecology, and restoration along with Florida geology,and legislative efforts of springs protection. Each day, students participated in springs field visits to learn about water quality testing with our very own Emily Taylor (pictured below). Following a field demonstration at each site, the springs exploration began!


    The photo above shows multiple schools of around 2,500 striped bass taking refuge in Silver Glen Springs (yes, we counted). This is a very rare occurrence and our timing couldn't have been better!



    Dr. Knight teaching students how to use a plankton tow net for measuring water particulates.



    Field School students are recording water conductivity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature.



    The group often found themselves pausing to share stories and take in the nature around us. We found this spot after a short hike to the sand boils at Silver Glen Springs. We were warned about a massive amount of mosquitos on this hike but the group, as a whole, decided to make the trip anyways (that's what you call dedication). There ended up only being a few bugs, so we were glad we trudged on.



    The group pictured gazing at the solar eclipse during our paddle on the Silver River!



    As The Clash once sung, "should I stay or should I go now?"


    Guy Marwick, founder of the Silver Springs Museum, gives the class a history lesson on Silver Springs State Park.


    And last but not least...


    We're still trying to figure out who had the bright idea to give Dr. Knight a squirt gun! Our summer environmental science intern, Fauve Wilson, was one of the many paddlers who fell victim to Dr. Night's water shenanigans during our Silver River trip. However, given the heat, there were a few appreciative targets. Thanks for the cool down, Dr. Bob.

    Copyright © 2017 Tess Skiles Photography, All rights reserved

  • 17 Nov 2016 3:55 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    By Dave Wilson (FSI Outings Leader)

    Twenty six springs enthusiasts enjoyed a perfect day hiking along the Alapaha River near Jennings, Florida.  This river is notable because of its large fluctuations in water level.  When ten inches of rain fall in South Georgia, the water can be 25 feet deep.  After informative talks by Florida Springs Director, Bob Knight, and leader, Tom Morris, we began with a side trip to an old settlement, where a pipe had been dug into the side of the bank.  While rusty from years of exposure to the elements, it continues to flow at a constant rate.  A second side trip was to an old cemetery with tombstones going back 100 years. 

    While some of us have canoed this river at flood stage when the water raged through the treetops, today it was virtually dry.  After a short lunch break, we began our hike by strolling up the middle of the river. 

    Along the way we were not only able to see fossilized clam (or mussel) shells, several muscular looking Ogeechee Tupelo trees (their honey is the best!), outcroppings of iron sulfide formations, but also a swallet (swallow hole), where the river roars back into the aquifer.   If the river had been canoeable, we would never have known the hole was there.  We must have spent an hour enjoying the “inside” of the aquifer. 

    While the swallet was exciting, the main goal of the trip was the “Dead River,” which is a distributary of the Alapaha.  Even though most of us are quite familiar with tributaries of a river, distributaries (where the water flows away from the river) are unusual.  When the water level is high, the Dead River roars and would make for a deadly canoe trip.  Today it silently exposed its magnificent rock formations, dead logs, and trash.  The photographic opportunities were endless. 

    All in all, we had a great day on the river.  Several participants put in a word for a followup trip to the Alapaha Rise in the near future.  Keep your eyes open for the next trip.

  • 20 Jun 2016 4:25 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    The Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI)  is concerned about elevated levels of nitrate nitrogen in much of the Floridan Aquifer (see potable water nitrate nitrogen analysis findings). This same Floridan Aquifer is the source of water feeding our 1,000+ artesian springs in North Florida and is the principal supply of potable water for the region.

    A substantial portion of the water in the Floridan Aquifer has been contaminated with nitrate by human activities, including the use of fertilizers and the disposal of wastewater in areas where the aquifer is most vulnerable. Resulting nitrate concentrations are well above harmful thresholds (numeric nitrate standard of 0.35 mg/L) in most of Florida's natural springs.

    Elevated groundwater nitrate concentrations are also acutely toxic to humans. In some areas of North Florida, nitrate concentrations in drinking water wells are already above the safe drinking water standard of 10 mg/L.

    While groundwater nitrate concentrations are rising throughout the region, most areas are still below this acute threshold. However, a growing body of medical literature is indicating that there may be chronic effects of nitrate at levels at or below those found in community drinking water supplies, including municipalities and in bottled drinking water. Human health issues that have been found to be exacerbated by sub-lethal nitrate concentrations in drinking water include various forms of human cancer and birth defects.

    For these reasons the Florida Springs Institute is collecting, analyzing, and publishing nitrate data from a variety of potable groundwater suppliers.

    For the health of our springs and our human population, we believe it is critical that the public is aware of this growing threat. If you are concerned about the health of our springs and the availability of clean water for drinking and bathing, let your local and state leaders know.

    Click on the image to enlarge.

    Click on the image to enlarge.

    Click on the image to enlarge.

  • 05 May 2016 10:48 AM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    Florida Springs Institute Director, Dr. Robert Knight, and Senior Environmental Scientist for FSI, Ron Clarke, were recently selected for publication in the February 2016 edition of the Journal of Earth Science and Engineering. The article, entitled "Florida Springs - A Water-Balance Approach to Estimating Water Availability", and a brief summary can be found below: 

    Click on the image above to access the full article. 

    Abstract: Florida’s artesian springs receive groundwater outflows from the Floridan Aquifer System and are concentrated north of I-4 and west to the Florida Panhandle. These springs and their resulting spring runs support a unique freshwater ecology dependent on perennial flows, constant temperature and chemistry, and high light transmissivity. Numerous observations indicate that Florida’s springs flows are declining as a result of the increasing extraction of groundwater for human uses. North Florida’s karst environment is especially susceptible to nitrogen pollution from agricultural and urban development. An empirical springs/aquifer water budget is needed to better understand these spring stressors. Discharge data from 393 of the state’s 1,000+ artesian springs are used to estimate trends in total spring discharge by decade since 1930-39. This analysis indicates that average spring flows have declined by about 32%. Large groundwater pumping centers are altering spring flows over the whole springs region. Existing groundwater pumping rates from the Floridan Aquifer in 2010 were more than 30% of average annual aquifer recharge, and allocated groundwater use in north-central Florida is nearly double current estimated uses. Based on biological research conducted in Florida springs, these flow reductions are from two to six times greater than declines known to result in significant harm to aquatic resources.

    Key words: Artesian springs, Floridan Aquifer, hydrology, aquatic ecology, aquifer recharge.

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