Three Florida springs could be getting additional protections

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Three of the largest freshwater springs systems in our region could be getting more protection; the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is adding the Weeki Wachee, Chassahowitzka and Homosassa Rivers to a priority list.

The other two first-magnitude spring systems already on the SWIM program priority list are the Rainbow River and Crystal River / Kings Bay.

WMNF News’ Seán Kinane interviewed Veronica Craw, springs manager with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD).

“Recently, the Department of Environmental Protection approved an addition to the SWFWMD’s, or the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s, SWIM priority water body list, adding three of our first magnitude springs systems to that list. So D.E.P officially approved adding the Weeki Wachi River, Chassahowitzka River and the Homosassa River to SWFWMD’s SWIM priority water body list.”

And SWIM stands for Surface Water Improvement Management program. What is that program?

“That program was established in 1987 by the Florida legislature. That is when they enacted the SWIM Act to protect, restore, and maintain Florida’s threatened surface water bodies. And under this act, the state’s five water management districts identify a list of priority water bodies within their authority and then develop and implement plans to restore or protect those priority systems.”

What kind of plans are we talking about? Why would they need to be protected and why are these springs important to be protected?

“These springs are important to be protected because they represent the remaining three of our five first-magnitude systems in the water management district to be added to the SWIM list. So, now the priority water body list includes all five of the first magnitude springs systems within SWFWMD’s boundaries. And a first-magnitude system denotes those springs or spring groups that discharge the largest amount of water per day. So they are significant water features within the district. For example, the five first-magnitude systems in our district, individually they discharge over sixty four million gallons of water per day. So, combined that basically over a billion gallons of water discharging to the Gulf of Mexico each day from those ‘first-mag’ systems.”

So you are talking about the impact in the rivers themselves but also an impact in the Gulf of Mexico where those fresh waters exit.

“That is correct. These systems are really key in protecting and preserving that offshore aquatic habitat right along the Gulf of Mexico. For example the seagrass beds and the scallop fisheries that those beds support.”

Going back into the fresh water for a second, what kinds of protections can — being on this priority list, what can you do to protect those springs?

“What the SWIM plans do is that they identify restoration projects as well as cost and responsibilities to restore these systems from the threats that impact them. So, the district then works with our partners to implement the projects that are identified in these plans. Some examples of projects that have been implemented in the past under SWIM include storm water retrofits, habitat restoration projects and shoreline enhancements.”

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