The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized the Southwest Florida Water Management District for its part in the Three Sisters Springs land acquisition project.
Eric Sutton, former District Land Resources director, and Gary Williams, District senior environmental scientist, were among the 18 individuals and organizations who recently received the Regional Director’s Conservation Award for their roles in the land acquisition project.
“It’s great to have the Fish and Wildlife Service recognize the District for this project, but there were many people and organizations that came together to make this happen,” said Sutton.
The acquisition included numerous partnerships such as Florida Communities Trust, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the City of Crystal River and other public and private contributors. Purchased for $10.5 million, the District acquired a 30 percent interest for the purposes of protecting water resources and to construct a stormwater treatment system. The remaining 70 percent interest was acquired on behalf of the City of Crystal River. The District contributed $1.28 million to the purchase, using Florida Forever funds. The land acquisition project was recommended in the 2004 City of Crystal River Watershed Management Plan.
“The City of Crystal River pulled a lot of people together to help make this happen,” said Sutton. “The city managed to bring people together from many different organizations, and the result is that a very valuable natural system is being preserved.”
An aerial view of the Three Sisters Springs property, with the approximate location of the District’s proposed stormwater treatment project.
The Three Sisters Springs parcel is a 57-acre site that contains 45 acres of uplands and 12 acres of wetlands, including three second-magnitude springs that serve as a winter refuge for manatees. The site lies within the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and previously served as a wetland system benefitting Kings Bay. The Crystal River/Kings Bay system has been designated a priority water body under the Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Program. Williams sees opportunities to improve the system, now that the District has some land to work with.
“Stormwater that discharges near Three Sisters Springs has been able to reach Kings Bay without adequate treatment,” said Williams. “This purchase gives us enough land to treat stormwater from approximately 135 acres within the City of Crystal River, helping us to remove nutrients and other constituents that are harmful to the bay.”
District plans for the property include developing a stormwater treatment wetland on an 8.5-acre section of the property to filter stormwater runoff. Stormwater currently enters a canal adjacent to Three Sisters Springs, which discharges directly into Kings Bay.
Although the City of Crystal River owns all but 8.5 acres of the property, the Fish and Wildlife Service will manage it. Mississippi-based Fish and Wildlife workers came to the property in May and built a 1,300-foot raised boardwalk around the springs. The boardwalk will give visitors clear views of manatees using the springs.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s regions give the conservation awards to organizations and teams who, in partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service, show significant contributions to natural resources and demonstrate exceptional innovation and ability in supporting good resources management and conservation.
The Fish and Wildlife Service Southeastern Region gave out 10 Regional Director’s Conservation Awards during the May 10 ceremony, recognizing individuals and organizations for restoration projects, conservation efforts, response to crisis situations and outstanding service.