I really appreciate that Jim Stevenson agreed, like Sonny Vergara, to answer “Four Questions” about water in Florida. Jim served as Chief Biologist for the Florida State Park System for 20 years and was the Chair of the Florida Springs Task Force and the Director of the Governor’s Florida Springs Protection Initiative. In his honor, a spring on the Suwannee River was named “Stevenson Spring.” After retirement from FDEP, Jim remains very active in springs protection, including serving as guide for many tours in the Wakulla watershed and serving on the board of the Wakulla Springs Alliance.
The Springs Task Force and the Spring Basin Working Groups, were funded and administered by DEP beginning during Governor Bush’s administration. It is my understanding that they were terminated because of inadequate funding; however, there didn’t seem to be any support for continuing these programs by the current administration.
Q2. What were the most important reasons for any improvements that occurred in springs in the last two decades?
Improvements in the health of the springs are not apparent. In fact most are steadily in decline due to pumping and/or increasing nitrate. However, due to various activities identified by the springs task force and working groups, a number of springs are probably in better condition than if we had not taken those steps. Some examples include a dye trace study that confirmed the connection of Wakulla Spring to the City of Tallahassee’s wastewater facility. As a result, an advanced wastewater treatment upgrade is underway at a cost of $227 million. State acquisition of 8,000 acres in the most vulnerable areas of the Wakulla Spring Basin has avoided contamination from future septic tanks and fertilized lawns. Also, the establishment of county spring protection zones to provide land use planning oversight has added protection for Manatee, Silver and Wakulla Springs.
Q3. Are there grounds for optimism about the fate of Florida springs?
We have spent substantial time and funding to educate Floridians about the plight of our springs and what citizens can do to overcome the degradation. Education can bring about change among the portion of the population that will voluntarily change their behavior. We need regulations to influence those who will not voluntarily change. During the current political climate, needed regulations are not possible, in fact, existing, meaningful regulations are being watered down or eliminated. Optimism may be in order if we can convince the public that they must be outraged by the loss of their springs.
Q4. Which matters more for the future of springs? Individual actions to protect springs or collective action like laws, rules, and political campaigns?
Individual action by each home owner will make a difference by using less water and eliminating the use of fertilizer. Of greater importance is for each Floridian to inform their legislators, county commissioners and the Governor that they want real action to save their springs. Collective action in the form of laws, rules and political campaigns demanded by organizations like springs alliances, garden clubs, the League of Women Voters and environmental organizations must outweigh the influence of corporate lobbyists who control the debate. Our springs will survive or die by the level of public sentiment.