Threats to Springs
The Northwest Florida Water Management District works in partnership with other state agencies, local governments, and stakeholder groups to protect and restore area springs. Key to the protection of these important and complex natural systems is understanding the various factors that can impact the health of springs, in terms of both water quality and the amount of water they discharge, including:
Weather and Drought
The Floridan Aquifer is the primary source of water for our springs. As the aquifer is recharged by rainfall, changes in the amount of rainfall can impact the level of water in the aquifer which in turn affects spring flow. Northwest Florida experienced drought conditions during the 2000-2001, 2006-2007, and 2011 droughts. This resulted in lower than normal water levels in the aquifer, springs, rivers, lakes and streams. As rainfall levels return to normal, so do water levels.
Increased nutrient concentrations-such as nitrogen and phosphorous-in natural water systems, can impact water quality and clarity and contribute to algae blooms that impact native vegetation and interfere with spring’s ecosystems. Increases in nutrients in Florida’s springs and water resources result from a variety of activities, including increased wastewater due to population growth and development, failing septic tanks, and the use of fertilizer and pesticides.
Runoff and Stormwater
Stormwater runoff and pollution can also impact the health of Florida’s water resources. As stormwater flows off of highways, county roads, parking lots, and residential developments, it carries with it heavy metals, petroleum by-products, pet wastes, and other pollutants. While stormwater has an immediate effect on surface waters, some of these contaminants may also reach the aquifer, which in turn affects springs.
Development & Industry
Every day in Florida, more than four billion gallons of groundwater is withdrawn from the aquifer for public water supply use, power plants, industry, agriculture, and other uses. These withdrawals, coupled with other factors such as rainfall amounts, can impact aquifer levels and spring discharges.
The increase in pavement, roads, and other impervious surfaces also impacts springs by preventing rainwater from percolating into the aquifer and increasing run-off of harmful pollutants, as well as altering the natural habitats of the groundwater contribution areas surrounding springs.
Publicly-owned springs are open for everyone to enjoy, but each year spring environments are damaged by users trampling vegetation above and below the water and by discarding trash in and around the spring bank. Concentrated human use can have a direct impact on springs and the animals and plants that live there. To help prevent shoreline erosion and harm to natural resources, visitors should always enter springs and other waterbodies using public access points.