Four Questions for Jim Stevenson

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.

Q1.  Why were the State Springs Task Force and the seven individual Springs Working Groups dismantled?

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.


Four Questions for Jim Stevenson — 3 Comments

  1. Spring protection needs to be a top priority. We need to re-establish stronger environmental standards to protect springs including limits on water drawn from aquifers, Septic Tank Inspections, reduction in fertilizers.

  2. I completely agree with Jim’s statement, “Optimism may be in order if we can convince the public that they must be outraged by the loss of their springs.” The only thing I would add is that outrage must be expressed in meaningful ways. Citizens who express their discontent by simply hitting a button to send a form letter or paying membership dues is not enough. We can’t afford to excuse ourselves from taking immediate action by kicking the can down the road until the next election. Education is ongoing but to put all our eggs in that basket is futile. It will take people willing to fund independent science and legal review to hold agencies accountable. Laws designed to protect our resources have been repeatedly broken but few have challenged because of high costs. At this point, it should be obvious to all that we cannot afford to be timid (or cheap!) in our quest to save what is left of Florida’s natural resources.

  3. I agree there needs to be a unified front for springs protection. This simply does not occur nowadays. With the recent county commission vote to roll back the existing wetlands protection ordinance which opens the door to diminishing wetlands in the future for Wakulla County, it isn’t difficult to see the government has lost sight of what springs mean to Florida. The fact is, government is going broke. Here in Wakulla County, we have one of the largest state owned parks in Florida containing the largest natural spring in North Florida. However, the park is overwhelmed with budget issues, the hotel does not profit and staff can not perform all the tasks at hand. Many volunteer groups are involved to help but yet the park is not used to its full potential. The same groups that are volunteering are at odds with each other over the use of the park. This park has the capability to benefit from several forms of recreational activities which are excluded in the management plan due to heavy influence by outside groups. Case in point is recreational scuba diving at the spring or any number of dozens of springs locate on the property. The fact is only 3 of the sites are used. This results in millions of dollars being excluded from the economy of the county and state. These are funds that could directly fund the task forces which were cut in the past. Hopefully this opens a few eyes and minds to the serious need for unity. While springs and sinks may be owned by private individuals, county or even state governments, the water contained in the aquifer which flows through them belong to us all. There is too much state control when it comes to public access and not near enough regulation for protection from destruction and contamination. Why worry about a few thousand divers in the spring when we already have thousands of people swimming there? Why not worry more about the pollution and now to come, building on the wetlands that will degrade the springs and aquifer to the point swimming won’t even be safe. I would say work on wiser use of the asset but it seems the only ones that listen are the ones with their own personal agenda to have a place of their own which should be equal access to all under the states own policy