A soon-to-be-completed restoration project at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park began as an idea Denise Tenuto had several years ago while waiting in the former attraction’s parking lot to pick up her daughter, who worked there as a lifeguard.
“As I was waiting for her, I noticed the rain in the parking lot was flowing toward the springs,” said Tenuto, a District environmental coordinator who recently retired.
When the District began its springs protection initiative, the project was a perfect fit.
The Weeki Wachee restoration project is the second project aimed at cleaning up the springs. The first project, which was completed last year, captures and treats stormwater runoff from U.S. Highway 19 and the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park’s parking lot.
The restoration project removed sediments, Lyngbya algae and other invasive vegetation and replanted native plant species to help improve the water quality.
Removing the sediment and nutrients from the springs was the main goal of the project. Removing the Lyngbya was a secondary benefit.
Lyngbya is an invasive algae that grows and spreads rapidly. It attaches itself to plants and the bottoms of water bodies, forming large mats. These mats grow and then break off, spreading to other areas. Lyngbya crowds out native vegetation and disrupts the natural filtration process as well as decreases the amount of native habitat for fish nurseries.
This project began in November 2008 when divers began removing approximately 6,130 cubic yards of sediment from the spring vent to the vicinity of the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park’s boat dock. Divers used hand vacuums created specifically for this project to remove everything from muck, Lyngbya and trash.
“The toughest part of the job was working around the park and its mermaid shows,” said Mike Wilkins, supervisor with Oklawaha Farms, Inc. “The show schedule only allowed us a three-day work week.”
In addition to the mermaid shows, the divers were also delayed by manatees that enter the springs during the colder weather. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s manatee protection rules state that motorized activities must stay 50 feet away from the manatees.
The sediment, which equaled hundreds of dump truck loads, was pumped underneath C.R. 550 and onto District property located across the street from the park. The District is using the sediment to fill in an area where tons of garbage were removed. District staff uncovered the garbage after the site was purchased in 2001.
In addition to the divers, another crew is completing restoration efforts along the shore. The crew removed invasive plants and trees around the springs and near the park’s boat dock and is replanting the area with native plants.
Tenuto says the head spring and the upper river are already seeing improvement.
“We’re seeing fish come back,” said Tenuto. “This project is going to make a lot of wildlife and area residents happy.”
District staff will monitor the springs to see how fast the Lyngbya grows back. This data will be used in planning upcoming restoration efforts at Chassahowitzka Springs.