Residents Learn to Guard the Health of Springs During Awareness Week

activities during Awareness WeekTop: Volunteers install aquatic plants at Dunnellon’s Blue Run Park. Second from top: Master Gardeners Chet Olshewsky, left, and JoEllen Allen staff an Ask-An-Expert Booth in Inverness. Third from top: Boy Scouts from Troop 452 mark storm drains in Dunnellon. Fourth from top: Water Quality Monitoring Program staff lead a tour of Kings Bay. Bottom: Dave DeWitt, District senior geologist/engineer, center, takes a tour group into Dames Caves.

Educational events held during the District’s second Springs Awareness Week showed residents how their actions affect the health of the springs and how they can protect these unique water resources.

Local governments in Citrus and Marion counties and the District’s Withlacoochee River Basin Board proclaimed the week of March 14–20 as Springs Awareness Week, and the District organized events throughout March to help residents make a difference.

Virginia Sternberger, a District senior communications coordinator, helped put together Springs Awareness Week events.

“People learned how easily our groundwater and springs can become polluted,” said Sternberger, “and that one of the biggest sources of pollution is over-fertilizing. They also learned fertilizing tips that will prevent water pollution.”

With more than 700 springs in the state, Florida has the largest concentration of springs in the world. These springs collectively discharge more than eight billion gallons of water daily and form the headwaters of several rivers in the District. Springs in the District are supplied from groundwater in the Upper Floridan aquifer — the same aquifer that provides the majority of the region’s drinking water. Over time, springs’ water quality and the amount of water they discharge have been threatened by withdrawals, development, population growth and poor irrigation and fertilization practices.

Sternberger set up tours of springsheds in Citrus and Marion counties to help residents see the systems up close. District staff showed residents how they monitor water quality in Kings Bay and the Rainbow River, and they explained how the District is working to improve the health of the water bodies. Dave DeWitt, District senior geologist/engineer; District staff; and Colleen Werner, Division of Forestry biologist, led a tour of the limestone formations in Citrus County’s Dames Caves so residents could see the structures that feed the springs.

“The limestone formations are on the surface here,” DeWitt told those on the tour. “When the rain falls, it seeps right through to the aquifer and helps recharge the springs.”

Guides provided tour participants with an overview of the state of the caves and led them into several caves on the property, allowing them to see how the geology supports aquifer recharge.

“These caves have been visited a lot over the years, and the wear and tear shows,” said Werner, “and some abuse too. These caves are worth preserving, and we’re taking steps to preserve as much as we can.”

Peter Colverson, coordinator of the Rainbow Springs Basin Working Group, led a tour of the Rainbow Springs, along with staff members from the District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. District Governing Board Treasurer Doug Tharp and other participants visited the Rainbow River and the 40 Fathom Grotto, a local swallet, which is an opening where a stream descends underground. Participants learned how these land features are directly connected to the water supply and learned about ways to protect them.

Other events during the week helped to educate homeowners. The Citrus County Extension held a class on fertilizing for the do-it-yourself landscaper. The Extension also conducted Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ classes and analyzed soil samples for free.

Master gardener volunteers set up Ask-An-Expert Booths at retail garden centers in Crystal River, Inverness, Belleview and Ocala. These volunteers answered questions about fertilizer and other gardening topics.

Chet Olshewsky, a master gardener with the Citrus County Extension, told shoppers in Inverness that Florida-friendly plants could make their yard chores easier.

“People will try to put plants where they don’t grow best,” said Olshewsky. “If you put shade-tolerant plants in the sun, they’ll need too much water. If you try to grow turf where tree roots compete for nutrients, you’ll end up applying too much fertilizer. All that extra water and fertilizer has to go somewhere, and too much of it ends up in our rivers and springs.”

Springs Awareness Week gave residents chances to learn as well as chances to do their part too. In Dunnellon, Boy Scout Troop 452 marked storm drains along East Pennsylvania Avenue with permanent stickers to warn residents that the storm drains lead to the area’s rivers and to remind them to help keep the water bodies clean. The project was led by prospective Eagle Scout Ryan Piechowiak.

“This is a different Eagle Scout project,” said Piechowiak. “This project will make a difference for a long time. People will be able to see these stickers for years.”

At Dunnellon’s Blue Run Park, volunteers installed aquatic plants to help slow and filter the amount of pollutants entering the pond, as well as the Rainbow River.

“We were able to reach 1,400 residents in Marion and Citrus counties during Springs Awareness Week this year,” said Sternberger. “People learned how over-fertilizing impacts the health of springs and how to take action to ensure they’re doing their part to help protect them.”