Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What I saw at Silver Springs

Friday I took the day off to canoe up the Silver River to Silver Springs. I observed more wildlife on that stretch of river than I did on my all my other kayak trips this year combined. I saw hundreds of turtles, fish, birds and alligators. I again noticed signs of the drought – lots of exposed tree roots and cypress buttresses that are normally underwater. I also noticed the only places along the river with a sandy bottom were spots where fish had fanned out beds – otherwise a layer of algae coated everything underwater. But the most dramatic sight was that the surface of the water above the springs was as smooth as a reflecting pond with no boil interrupting the surface.

My trip began when I rented a canoe at Silver Springs State Park where a three-person Old Town Canoe rents for $7/hr. It's a half mile walk from the parking lot to the river, so if you want to bring your own canoe or kayak, you'll need a a cart. The path down to the river is a beautiful walk, but the star of this park is obviously the river which flows from Silver Springs to the Ocklawaha. The first hour of the rental is free to allow for the time it takes to walk the path to and from the river.

While the water wasn't as crystal clear as I remember from childhood, the visibility is still good enough to see fish floating below. It seemed like bream followed the canoe as I took underwater photos. It was almost visual overload as there was beauty in all directions; amazing flora and fauna on land, in the water and in the air. Despite the drought and the water issues, this river is absolutely gorgeous, a natural treasure worthy of protection.

Throughout the river there were deep spots where the color of the water appeared to change to a vibrant cyan and the bottom was no longer visible. Had their been a boil on the surface of the water it would have been apparent that these were springs. But because the surface was smooth I was unsure.

As I approached the springs at the beginning of the river, a glass bottom boat floated over a spot where millions of gallons of fresh clear water bubble up, and there was no surface evidence whatsoever of the spring's existence. I heard that week that the flow levels were lowest ever recorded. I also noted what I had seen in my last visit in 2010 – lots of algae and reduced water clarity. What I saw on this day was that the health of the springs where suffering.

The State Park Ranger who rented me the canoe said the way back would be quicker than going upstream due on the current from the springs. But the wind offered more resistance than the current which seemed relatively insignificant on this day. The trip up and back, with multiple photo stops, took me 4 hours. I learned that taking photos while trying to negotiate a canoe by yourself is no easy task!

Two days after my trip, the attorney for Frank Stranach, the Canadian Billionaire requesting the right to pump millions of gallons a day from Florida's aquifer, published a long editorial in the Gainesville Sun entitled "Adena Springs permit won't hurt Silver Springs." He said: "environmental stewardship needs to be based on science and facts and not emotion or fear."

My response is to take a look at these archival images from the State Archives and compare them to the ones I took on Friday. My concern is that those who have no point of reference will think the current conditions of the spring are acceptable. Those of us who witnessed the glory and grandeur of this natural wonder when it was relatively unspoiled must be heard. These springs are in critical condition. Even now, regardless of what happens with Adena Springs Ranch, they need our help. Should the permit be approved, there is strong possiblilty Silver Springs could end up like Wakulla Springs, where the glass bottom boats rarely leave the dock. From what I witnessed, Silver Springs are not far from that now.

If you'd like to help join the movement to push back against those who would put Silver Springs at risk, here's how you can help:

Silver Springs Facts 

(from Dr. Robert Knight, Director of the H.T. Odum Florida Springs Institute)

Flows have declined by 32% during the past decade and 50% since 1965s
This is not due solely to drought. Regional spring flow has decreased by 40% over the past 30 years, while rainfall has decreased by only 15%. As groundwater users increase and recharge areas decrease, the Adena draw of 13 MGD would deplete the springs even further, endangering sustainable flow and intensifying the problem of rising levels of groundwater nitrate pollution.

Waste created from a large number of cattle, a meat processing plant, and excess nutrients from fertilizers used on the Adena property could reach the groundwater that ultimately discharges from Silver Springs, exacerbating the existing problem of elevated nitrate nitrogen levels in the spring.

Despite its Outstanding Florida Water (OFW) designation, Silver River is already severely impaired, before Adena. Note: the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “may not issue permits for indirect discharges that would significantly degrade a nearby waterbody designated as an OFW.” 

Moreover, if Silver Springs dies, Marion County stands to lose an estimated $61.45 million dollars in direct revenue per year, including over 1,060 jobs with wages of $12.61 million per year. The projected number of jobs created by Adena Ranch is 100. If our water officials do nothing to save Silver Springs, they will be responsible for an economic as well as an environmental disaster.


  1. Thank you for providing this valuable information on Silver Springs/River and Adena Beef.

  2. Thanks, here's another good editorial:

  3. Ditto to what Octohawk said. This made me incredibly sad. Have you considered contacting the Orlando Weekly to see if they would do an article about it to help get the word out? (They would be quicker to jump in and help than the local news.)

  4. It's getting lots of publicity in North Florida, but nothing in Central Florida. The Weekly would be a great idea. Here's a great editorial: http://www.ocala.com/article/20120520/OPINION/120519689?p=1&tc=pg

  5. and if you wan to stay on top of the water issues, consider joining the aquiferious group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/346949600899/

  6. Also consider attending the event on June 23rd: http://tinyurl.com/833z6mq

  7. Thank you, looking into all of these.