I recently paddled the Wekiva River/Rock Springs Run, one of Florida’s two federally designated wild and scenic rivers. Only a few miles north of Orlando, it was difficult to realize that more than two million people live within thirty miles of the river system. The water was sparkling clear, turtles sunned on logs, limpkins probed for apple snails in vast mats of native spadderdock and pennyroyal, and there was not a speck of invasive hydrilla in sight. “The Wekiva is considered one of the most protected waters in the state,” Wekiva aquatic preserve manager Deborah Shelley said, “but we still have challenges in the basin.”
Like at our own Wakulla Springs, excess nutrients are the hidden menace. Fertilizers from lawns and countless golf courses along with septic tank discharges and other sources have entered the groundwater and have emerged in the springs that feed Rock Springs Run and the Wekiva River. That’s because the tens of thousands of acres of protected land that make up this watery wilderness do not encompass the entire recharge area. And so, the solutions fall upon area residents and farmers.
A welcome champion-the Rotary Club of Seminole County South-has recently put forth a challenge to area residents to reduce nutrient levels in the springs. Working with river managers and water and landscaping experts, they put together a glossy, magazine-style publication about the river basin’s biodiversity and the need for protection measures. “Governments alone cannot protect our water resources,” concludes Rotary president Jim DeKleva. The publication’s culmination is a simple and straightforward promise that people can make, one that I have easily adapted for Wakulla Springs by simply changing the name at the end:
–I will use less fertilizer, no fertilizer or slow-release fertilizer on my lawn.
–I will have my septic tank inspected and, if needed, pumped out every five years.
–I will plant native or drought tolerant trees, shrubs, and ground cover.
–I will use pesticides and herbicides only when absolutely necessary.
–I will write a letter to my local government official, county commissioner and/or state legislators to let them know I support protecting Wakulla Springs.
Most of the Tallahassee area falls within the Wakulla Springs recharge area, and as springs expert Jim Stevenson once pointed out, if you poured a glass of water onto the ground from the steps of Florida’s old capitol building, it would likely end up at Wakulla Springs. Improvements to the City of Tallahassee’s sewage treatment facilities and sprayfield are already being made, so the next steps are ones we can all make. Take the Wakulla Springs pledge.