Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another Spring Story

My brother and I joke about Polk County quite a bit, because he lives there and witnesses the clash of old and new Florida that is a microcosm of our state. Located on the ridge of an ancient sand dune that runs vertically down the peninsula, Polk County is home to the granddaddy of all Florida roadside attractions, Cypress Gardens.  Lake Eloise, the lake that the Gardens is situated on, is one of many beautiful lakes in the region; I imagine the area looks like Swiss cheese from the air for all its water features.

In addition to tourism and agriculture, one of the older industries in Polk County is the phosphate mining industry, and in fact near Mulberry, Florida you'll find an entire museum dedicated to the extraction of phosphate from Florida's earth. Unfortunately mining this key ingredient in fertilizer requires a great deal of water. And in the case of one Polk County spring, the misuse of so much water proved disastrous.

Kissengen Springs, near Bartow, was a popular recreational spot for Polk County residents until 1950 when the 20 million gallons of water that flowed through its mouth abruptly stopped flowing. It seems the nearby phosphate mines were pumping up 75 millions gallons of water each day, more than twice that used by all the rest of the residents of Polk County combined, and the demand caused the level of the aquifer to drop almost 50 feet from its original levels. Today the spring is a muddy hole in the ground, a lesson that we need to treat our state's resources carefully or the results could be catastrophic.

Postscript: An article in today's Orlando Sentinel tells how as part of the clean-up efforts on Lake Apopka, they are introducing Sunshine Bass (see yesterday's blog) to eat the Gizzard Shad that contribute to high phosphorous levels. 

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