The Ichetucknee Springs and River are suffering from the same stresses faced by the majority of springs in Florida. They have lost an estimated 18 to 25% of their historic average flows due to increasing groundwater withdrawals and lower rainfall totals, and they have experienced an increase in nitrate nitrogen concentrations of more than 1500%. Since clean and abundant water is the lifeblood of these springs, they are experiencing a striking decline in their environmental health.
The quote above, from page 20 of Ichetucknee Springs & River: A Restoration Action Plan, describes how the once-pristine Ichetucknee is now damaged by human activity. We are allowing too much pollution to enter our water, and we are pumping too much water out of the aquifer. Both of these activities harm the springs and the river.
Spring flows began declining in the 1970s, due in part to massive water use in Northeast Florida that has siphoned underground water away from the Ichetucknee Springshed. In the springshed itself, average water withdrawals have increased 132% since the 1960s. Overall, the Ichetucknee River has lost about 25% of its flow since the early 1900s; this loss is attributed to causes other than declining rainfall.
Declining flows allow for higher concentrations of pollutants such as nitrates that damage the underwater plant community and can be toxic to people and animals. The United States Geological Survey estimates that every year, 1430 tons of nitrogen leach into the Floridan Aquifer underlying the Ichetucknee Springshed. In descending order, the primary sources of this pollution are inorganic fertilizers on crops, lawns and pine plantations; animal waste; septic tanks; atmospheric deposition ; and land application of treated wastewater and biosolids.
Even though we know that water withdrawals and pollution are damaging the Ichetucknee, the pollution and withdrawals seem to continue unabated. Are we trading long-term care and for short-term thinking and a refusal to acknowledge that we need to change the ways in which we are dealing with our water?
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