Ryan Smart | Florida Springs

May 01, 2024   |   Waterfront

In this podcast episode, Ryan Smart advocates for the preservation of Florida Springs, spreading awareness about some of the environmental challenges threatening these precious resources.

Ryan Smart is the Executive Director of the Florida Springs Council. In this episode of the In Our Expert Opinion Real Estate Podcast, Ryan shares his expertise, insights, and passion for conserving Florida’s springs and aquifers. While exploring conservation strategies, the podcast episode also delved into the significant role these natural resources play in the state’s environment and economy.

Learn more about Florida springs

Below is an excerpt from the interview. Listen above for the full podcast.

Why is it important to conserve Florida springs? There's a whole bunch of reasons why it's important, especially if you live in Central or North Florida. Our springs are fed by the Floridan aquifer, which is a very large body of water underground that runs from south of Orlando all the way up into South Carolina. Two-thirds of Floridians get their drinking water from that aquifer.

That aquifer also provides all the flow to Florida springs, so our springs are a window to the aquifer because they tell us about the health of our drinking water. Water is what fuels Florida's economy. Whether you're talking about development, or you're talking about boating, fishing, any kind of recreation, or agriculture, it's really water that drives what we can do and how we can do it.

If you're a nature lover, there's no more beautiful place in all of Florida, in my opinion, than Florida springs. And they're an incredibly important habitat for wildlife, both the big wildlife like the manatee that we all want to protect and the little critters like the Ichetucknee siltsnail and crayfish.

How many springs are in Florida? We don't really know—there are thousands and thousands. We know the big ones, of course, like Silver and Rainbow and Wakulla, but there are so many tiny springs along the Santa Fe River and the Suwannee River.

All of North Central Florida's rivers are spring-fed. A lot of them have these very small secret springs that are helping build that flow. So we'll never really know how many, but it's the largest collection of natural springs in the world. Nowhere has more springs than this part of Florida.

What is the Floridan aquifer? Underneath most of North and Central Florida—you can describe it as an underground river. That's not exactly accurate, but it's close enough.

Underneath our ground in Florida, we have limestone, and that limestone dissolves. If you've ever been at a spring, and you see those rock formations that kind of have holes going through them and look like they've just been dissolved, they've been dissolved by the acid in the rain.

That creates these big tunnels and tubes underneath the ground; water flows through those, and that's the water that comes out of our springs. It's also the water that we use for drinking. So, more or less, any water you pull out of the ground here in Florida for drinking is water that at one point would have come out of one of those springs.

What challenges threaten Florida springs? There definitely are laws and rules around springs, but how well they're being enforced and implemented can be another issue. There are really two issues when it comes to springs, and one of them is the amount of water we suck out of the ground. 

If we don't have water, then we're not going to have springs, and you have to leave water in the aquifer for the spring to flow. We actually have had springs in Florida that die, especially because of phosphate mining. We used up so much water that the level of the aquifer drops so low that the springs don't flow anymore. So that's one big issue is trying to get people to conserve water and use water more wisely.

A big second issue is water quality. How much pollution is in that water in the aquifer and comes out of our springs? When you're talking about springs. The main kind of pollution we worry about is nitrogen. Nitrogen feeds algae growth in the springs, the algae kills off all the native vegetation, which eventually kills off the native animals. It takes what should be that beautiful image of a spring with light blue crystal clear water, waving green seagrass, and a white sandy bottom, and it replaces all of that with just a layer of green algae. That is not good for humans or animals.

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