TALLAHASSEE- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is expanding its efforts to restore Silver Springs and Kings Bay by finalizing restoration goals and committing $2.5 million to water quality improvement projects.
“In the last two years, with support from Governor Scott, Senator Charlie Dean and the rest of the Florida Legislature, we will have directed $11.5 million to restoring Florida’s springs – more than double the spending in the previous three years,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr.
Department research and monitoring led to designating Silver Springs and the Upper Silver River as impaired for nitrates, a form of nutrients that can cause serious algae problems. The Department is now finalizing the Total Maximum Daily Load or, in this case, the maximum acceptable concentration of nitrates, at 0.35 milligrams per liter. This is the same restoration target that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted for springs — based on the Department’s data — and that has been upheld in both state and federal courts. Meeting the restoration target will protect aquatic life and bring the system back into balance.
A formal management plan to reduce nitrate inputs to meet the total maximum daily load will be developed. Local involvement will be key to identifying the specific actions that area stakeholders will implement to reduce nitrate inputs into the system, along with a schedule for carrying them out.
“Cooperation and partnerships between DEP, the Legislature and public and private stakeholders is the only way our springs will be restored,” said Senator Charlie Dean. “I appreciate the Department’s efforts as they continue to spend money allocated by the Legislature on meaningful projects to restore our springs.”
The Department is not waiting on completion of the management plan to act, however. In July, the Department announced a $1 million investment in wastewater projects identified in concert with Marion County and the St. Johns River Water Management District as critical to restoring area water quality.
The first project will redirect the current discharge from the Silver Springs Regional-Wastewater Treatment Plant, only 1.5 miles from the main boil of Silver Springs, to the Silver Springs Shores Wastewater Treatment Plant, 10 miles from the boil. It will also connect a series of small “package” wastewater treatment plants to the central facility, which will provide better treatment. Implementation of these actions will eliminate more than two tons of nitrates currently going into the Silver Springs system every year.
The Department will invest another $400,000 to take Silver River State Park off septic tanks and hook it to central sewer, reducing nitrates in Silver River and Silver Springs by another 1,370 pounds annually.
“Florida is a national leader in water quality assessment and restoration, and we are aggressively attacking pollution in Florida’s fabled springs,” said Drew Bartlett, Director of DEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “DEP uses the best science available to identify water quality problems and works with local leaders to solve them.”
On another front, to improve King’s Bay, the Department is committing more than $1.1 million to a reuse project for the city of Crystal River. This ongoing project, jointly funded with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the city, will send 750,000 gallons of reclaimed water from the Crystal River wastewater treatment plant to the Progress Energy Citrus County Power Complex. It will reduce wastewater nutrient loading to the local springshed by 16 percent and increase spring flow in Kings Bay by reducing the need for groundwater pumping at the power complex.
The Department will soon establish nutrient reduction requirements for the Rainbow, Jackson Blue and Weeki Wachee springs systems. Earlier this year, the agency adopted a water quality restoration plan for the spring fed Santa Fe River and is on track to adopt a similar restoration plan for the Wekiva Basin. The Department is also kicking off restoration plans for Wakulla Springs and multiple springs along the Suwannee River this year. The objective is to speed up the pace of restoration, tackling problems with clear solutions immediately and developing plans with local stakeholders to solve longer term goals.