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District and UF scientists discuss progress made on springs science investigation

More than 50 scientists and engineers with the St. Johns River Water Management District and University of Florida (UF) met Sept. 1 to report on progress made in the first year of a three-year partnership to enhance the scientific foundation needed to develop solutions to restore and protect Florida's springs.

Among accomplishments:

  • Installed wells in the Silver Springs springshed to measure water quality changes that occur as water moves through soil layers and the aquifer system. Began assessing how nitrogen sources vary within the springshed according to differences in land uses, land cover and soils.
  • Assessed the importance of conduits in the aquifer system to better understand most cost-effective and feasible projects to reduce nitrate loading to the aquifer and the springs.
  • Initiated field and laboratory studies in the Silver Springs ecosystem to investigate physical, chemical and biological factors that contribute to the overgrowth of algae and diminish the health of native plant communities.
  • Measured flow patterns, sediment characteristics and vegetation character and distribution in the Silver Springs system. These measurements will help to develop a hydrodynamic model that will predict influences of velocity, vegetation and flow characteristics of the river.
  • Continued to measure the chemistry of sediments and water quality in the springs system to assess their effects on the health of the ecosystem.

"Science is the foundation of the decision making that we have to do real-time," said Dr. Ann Shortelle, District executive director. "While this work has been under way, the District has been actively engaged in dozens of projects, many now under construction, to help protect and restore major spring systems. The science will help to ensure that those investments bear productive fruit."

In the three years that Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature have allocated targeted springs funding, the District has invested in approximately $120 million worth of projects to improve water quality and/or enhance flows in Volusia Blue Spring, Silver Springs, the Wekiva River system springs and Lower Santa Fe River springs in cooperation with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and local partners.

"St. Johns is responsible for the public policy for managing our fragile springs," said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources. "The University of Florida's Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is dedicated to the science behind sustainable agriculture and natural resources. So our collaboration is a natural fit."

"This team of investigators is seeking to unravel the complexities associated with the transport, transformation and fate of contaminants in our groundwater and surface water systems so that we are better positioned to repair the damage and more effectively manage springs in the future," said Tom Frazer, director of the School of Natural Resources and Environment and acting director of the UF Water Institute.

"The springs not only reflect the status of the aquifer but also influence the ecological health of many of Florida's most significant surface water ecosystems," said Dr. Ramesh K. Reddy, graduate research professor and chair of the UF/IFAS Soil and Water Science Department. "This multidisciplinary research effort is aimed to understand more fully the complex processes regulating health of these fragile ecosystems."

"Florida is rich in water resources and its springs are, perhaps, the most exquisite expression of this wealth," said Dr. Ed Lowe, chief scientist for the District. "This partnership is an unprecedented, giant step forward toward understanding how we can restore and protect these natural gems and the aquifer on which they, and we, depend."

Additional Contact Information

Teresa Monson

St. Johns River Water Management District

(904) 730-6258