Tours Raise Awareness About the Health of Local Springs

Springs tour events Photo left: District staffers Bob Brady, senior field technician; Carol Kraft, staff hydrologist; Dave DeWitt, senior geologist/engineer; and Tim Crosby, field technician, check out Peace Sign cave. Photo center: An 87-year-old tour participant talks to Gary Williams, District senior environmental scientist, on the walk to the caves. Photo right: Tim Crosby, field technician, shows tour participants how the District collects water quality samples.

This March, residents from Citrus and Marion counties enjoyed several opportunities to celebrate and learn about their local springs as part of the District’s first Springs Awareness Week.

The District, along with Citrus and Marion counties and the cities of Crystal River and Dunnellon, declared Springs Awareness Week in an effort to raise awareness about the health of the local springs and what people can do to protect them.

Two very popular and informative activities were tours of the Rainbow River springshed and the Crystal River/Kings Bay springshed.

The tours helped illustrate how nitrate pollution from overusing fertilizers is having an impact on the quality of our springs.

“Just because you aren’t near the spring, doesn’t mean you can’t harm the spring,” said Gary Williams, District senior environmental scientist, during a presentation about the area’s karst geology. In an area with karst features such as rocky ground, limestone, springs and caves, fertilizers and pollutants easily seep into the ground water.

Residents who attended the Crystal River/Kings Bay tour visited the Dames Caves in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The visit helped illustrate how these sensitive karst environments are very susceptible to groundwater pollution from the overuse of fertilizers.

In addition to the geology lesson led by District staff, Colleen Werner, Division of Forestry biologist, discussed the ecosystems inside and around caves and the species that need caves to survive.

“Even though the ecosystems in these two caves have been very impacted by human activity, they are still of value,” said Werner. “The educational opportunities are great. We hope to build upon that in the future.”

After experiencing the inside of the caves, participants boarded boats that took them around Kings Bay to see the direct impacts associated with excessive fertilizer and nutrients entering the water &emdash; excess algal growth.

Almost half of the Kings Bay springshed is developed. Fertilizer from yards, as well as other pollutants, enters the bay from runoff after it rains. Natural shoreline with native plants help filter the nutrients before they enter the water, but most of the Kings Bay shoreline consists of seawalls that were built many years ago.

“After a big rain, you will see the bay turn green because it has just been fertilized,” said Dave DeWitt, District senior geologist/engineer. “We need you to tell your friends and neighbors about what you learned and what everyone can do to help.”

On the Rainbow River tour, participants visited the Blue Grotto, a wet cavern that serves as a window to the aquifer. This karst area demonstrates how a thin layer of dirt is little protection to the ground water below.

Both tour groups also viewed the documentary “Water’s Journey,” which shows how water travels through Florida’s aquifer and springs. It also examines sources of pollution and what we can do to help.

“Participants learned what they can do to protect the springs,” said Virginia Sternberger, District senior communications coordinator. “Many said they plan to only use slow-release fertilizer and only hire certified landscape professionals.”

Other events during Springs Awareness Week included free “Ask An Expert” booths at area retailers, a free turf care workshop and Florida-friendly landscaping™ tour at the county Extension offices, the 15th Annual Marion County Master Gardeners’ Spring Festival and the Rainbow Springs State Park music festival.

Landscapers were also invited to attend a Best Management Practices for Fertilizer Ordinance Certification Class at the Marion County Extension office. Participants were certified in Green Industries Best Management Practices, a program required for all commercial firms applying fertilizer to residential lawns in Marion County. The program reviewed principles of landscape and turfgrass management.

For more information on what you can do to protect the springs, please visit the District’s web site at