Why a Book/Web Site on Florida Springs?
So what is the big deal about Florida Springs? How could − and why would − anyone possibly write 1,400-pages (so far, counting photographs) about water coming up out of the ground? And there are springs all over the world, after all, so why focus on Florida? What make these springs so special?
Explore this Guide, and you will discover the answers to these and other related questions. The Guide is a tool and resource for people who wish to learn more about, visit, explore, observe nature in, protect, paddle, kayak, swim, skin-dive, picnic, camp, relax, or snorkel at Florida springs. Information is provided on over 500 Florida springs (out of the 700+ or so that have been identified so far by the State of Florida).
What are Springs?
First, some basic definitions are in order. A spring is, indeed, a place where water flows out of the ground. Put more precisely, it is a “point of focused discharge of groundwater from underground flow systems” (Mattson, in “Abstracts of . . .” p. 2, 2000). Water flows underground just as it does on the surface, from higher elevations to lower elevations--i.e., downward.
The source of most springs worldwide is water that flows near the surface in what are called surficial aquifers. An impermeable layer below these aquifers/water tables—such as clay or non-porous rock—keeps the water from seeping further underground (German, in “Abstracts of . . .” 2000). Surficial or water-table springs are formed where the land dips below the water table or where pressure from water flowing downward forces the water to the surface. Such springs form seeps and creeks, which join together to make rivers that ultimately flow into lakes or the sea.
Florida’s Artesian Springs
But in some places, and especially in north and central Florida, the surface is underlain by layers (sometimes thousands of feet thick) of limestone or dolomite. This rock is porous, and water seeps through it from the surface. Mild, naturally occurring carbonic acid (picked up by the rain in the atmosphere) eats away at the soft rock, ultimately creating underground caverns, rivers, and aquifers. Springs from these aquifers are termed artesian springs, and they occur where water rises from the aquifer to the surface through openings in the limestone or dolomite. Water resides underground 10-40 years on average (Katz et al., in Abstracts of . . . 2003).
What makes the water come up, and what determines how much will flow? There are a variety of factors, including pressure from other water pushed down through the aquifer by rain and gravity, the level of porosity of the aquifer, the size of the aquifer, tides, levels of rainfall, and atmospheric pressure (Rosenau et al., 1977). Two other key factors are (1) how close the aquifer is to the surface and (2) erosion near the aquifer created by surface water such as rivers.
The Floridan (not Floridian) Aquifer is one of the world’s largest. It underlies all of Florida and extends into Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. The Floridan Aquifer is formed primarily of limestone—sand, shells, and sea creature skeletons that settled on the bottom when this region was a shallow sea. Over the millennia, these materials were pressed together to form limestone. Geologic and tectonic pressures pushed Florida up from the sea, and in north and central Florida pushed the limestone—and the Floridan Aquifer—very near to the surface. Along a line from approximately Lake City to Orlando, the aquifer bulged even higher to create what is called the Ocala Uplift. "Karst" is the term given to topography in regions where aquifers are close to or actually at the surface. Karst areas are also characterized by rolling topography, existence of sinkholes, and lack of surface water drainage (Champion & Starks, May 2001, p. 13).
These geologic factors and the relatively heavy amount of rain Florida receives (50-60 inches a year on average, depending on location) are the main reasons for all the springs in Florida, and also why they are so large. It is calculated that the Floridan Aquifer contains more than 2.2 quadrillion (or 2,200,000,000,000,000) gallons of water (Scott et al., 2002)! This is a lot of water--far more, in fact, than all the fresh water held in the five Great Lakes combined (Call & Stephenson, 2003). In fact, the flow of Florida’s 33 largest springs probably exceeds the combined flow of all the springs in any other nation in the world (Rosenau et al., 1977). There are 42 other first-magnitude springs in the United States. Most of Florida's springs, and many of the largest ones, are near the Ocala Uplift or the Dougherty Karst Plain District. The Floridan Aquifer is very near the surface in these areas, and major rivers such as the Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Alapaha, have eroded through the limestone directly into the aquifer.
Currently, the State of Florida has formally cataloged over 700 artesian springs. This number continues to rise as state hydrologists and scientists find and measure more. The authors of this Guide, for example, have identified several springs that were not on the state list. Flows from these springs vary from trickles to outpourings that create instant navigable rivers. Silver, Wakulla, Ichetucknee, Rainbow, Wekiva, and Weeki Wachee are spring-created rivers. The largest single flows put out more than 1/3 billion gallons of water each day. The Spring Creek group, which consists of about a dozen springs, has a combined flow of more than 1 billion gallons per day. See the “List of First-Magnitude Springs in Florida” for more information on Florida’s 33 most profuse springs and the debate over which is largest.
Springs have a relatively constant temperature, which is roughly equal to the mean annual temperature of the area in which they flow. In general, the further north the spring, the cooler the water. North Florida springs are typically 67-70 degrees, north-central springs are 70-72 degrees, and central Florida springs are 71-74 degrees. On hot days—of which Florida has more than its share—such water temperatures feel very refreshing and even chilly. In the winter, the water is warmer than the air, and it can be more comfortable to be in the water than out of it. Warm Mineral Springs near Venice is an exception—water in the spring has been measured at up to 100 degrees because it flows from a deep source where the subsurface temperature is higher.
Springs are usually classified by their water source, their flow, or the contents of their water. Water in most springs has filtered through the ground into the aquifer, and is usually clean and clear. Springs located along the coast, where fresh water meets salt water, discharge brackish water. The level of salinity of this water varies with tide, season, and amounts of rainfall.
The content of the water in a spring depends on what the water passes through both on the surface and underground. The flow of some springs is highly variable in content, temperature, and chemistry; others have very uniform flow, temperature, and composition. Scientists speculate that, in general, the more variable springs’ discharge contains much more surface ground water. Even springs that are very near each other can have very different flow, content, temperature, and variability characteristics, suggesting their water is from different underground sources (Martin, “Abstracts of . . .” 2000, p. 9).
But geology, hydrology, and raw numbers do not tell the whole story of Florida springs. There are other reasons why Florida springs are special—reasons why, for example . . .
- Over 2 million people visit the 33 springs protected in Florida’s state parks each year, generating over $7,000,000 in annual revenue.
- 200,000 people visit Ichetucknee Springs State Park alone.
- There are currently 13 spring state parks or recreation areas named for springs and many county and water management district spring parks and recreation areas.
- It is calculated that roughly $75 million is spent annually by people associated with their visits to springs.
- There are passionate battles over spring access, development, extraction/pumping, restoration, and preservation.
- Springs are so directly linked with Florida’s history, development, conservation, economy, recreation, and tourism.
- Florida springs are the most popular spots in the world for freshwater scuba diving.
- They are historically the primary (and still a major and critical) winter habitat for the endangered West Indian Manatee.
- They hold such a powerful place in the minds and hearts of Florida residents and visitors who have spent time in them.
Everyone has heard the legend of Ponce de Leon and his search for the Fountain of Youth. Well, legends die hard, but de Leon was primarily searching for precious minerals or slaves when he happened upon some of Florida’s springs. But he unwittingly started a modern trend—the notion of visiting springs for restoration and recreation. Springs were Florida’s first tourist attraction, with steamboats of tourists visiting Silver Springs as early as 1860. At least nine springs were roadside attractions in the 20th century, including Sanlando, Rainbow, Silver, Weeki Wachee, De Leon, Ravine Gardens, Warm Mineral, and Wakulla (Breslauer, 2000)—all but Sanlando continue to attract visitors in large numbers today.
A study conducted by researchers at Florida State University examined four state spring parks--Ichetucknee, Wakulla, Homosassa, and Volusia Blue--and calculated that the four springs together generated 1,038 jobs and attracted visitors who spend $68.5 million each year (Bonn & Bell, 2003). The economic and tourist impacts of springs are one of the key factors in the raised level of interest in springs protection and restoration.
In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, people flocked to Florida springs to seek cure from a variety of ailments, from gout to rheumatism to arthritis to polio. White Spring in Hamilton was a developed cure site by 1835 (Roseneau et al., 1977). And the smellier the spring, the better. The most popular spring-cure sites—White, Suwannee, Panacea Mineral, Hampton, Sulphur, Espiritu Santo, and Newport—have high sulfur and other mineral content as well as a pronounced odor. Today, only Warm Mineral Springs in Sarasota remains as a cure site, and a visitor there feels transported back in time to 19th Century Eastern Europe.
Most springs are along or near rivers and so are accessible by canoe, kayak, or small boat. They offer opportunities to take a plunge and cool off after hours of paddling. The limestone openings at springs are often large enough to admit divers into the black world of the Floridan Aquifer itself. The Peacock Springs area boasts the world’s longest mapped underwater cavern system. These unearthly realms draw thousands of divers each year. Special certification is required to go into the caves beyond the reach of natural light. This certification is an absolute necessity—over 200 divers have died in Florida spring caverns since 1950.
And let’s not forget swimming, canoeing, and diving. As most springs have clear and calm water and are not more than 10-15 feet deep, they are nature’s perfect swimmin’ holes. Unlike the beach—where harsh conditions require an arsenal of provisions and protective gear—one can swim for hours at most springs and feel completely refreshed at the end of the day instead of drained, burned, gnawed upon, wave-battered, and exhausted.
There is also something about the springs’ flow, clarity, and rich blue hues that entices and delights. Blue is the last color in the light spectrum to be absorbed in water, and the deepest and clearest points in the springs are the brightest blue. Water rises from the flow-points and moves the surface in a way that alternately suggests renewed life, action, peace, and eternity. Observers since the 18th Century have noted the peacefulness of Florida springs and that aquatic animals that would normally prey on each other appear to observe an unspoken truce in the springs. Perhaps the armistice derives from the clear water rendering sneak attacks impossible, as William Bartram postulated. Or perhaps the springs have the same mellowing affect on fauna as they do on people. (By the way, there are at least 26 different springs named "Blue" in Florida; some counties have more than one!)
Springs and their cave systems are critical habitat for plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else. As mentioned, manatees depend of springs’ constant temperatures to keep them warm in the winter. For despite their great amounts of blubber, manatees cannot withstand temperatures lower than the low 60s. There has been an increase recorded in the use of springs by manatees in recent years. Nearly 400 manatees (about 15% of the total population) regularly winter at just two spring areas, Crystal River in Citrus County and Blue Springs in Volusia County (Smith, in “Abstracts of . . .” 2000, p. 16).
The Ichetucknee Silt Snail is found only in one spot (Coffee Springs) along the Ichetucknee River. Spring caverns harbor 22 Florida cave-dependent species that are found nowhere else in the world. At present, only three of these species are legally protected (Hartnett, 2000, p. 12). In addition to manatees, several other species have adapted over millennia to the unique spring habitat and cannot survive in rivers that are subject to "wide fluctuations in temperature, water clarity, and/or sedimentation" (Champion & Starks, May 2001, p. 1). Springs are spawning grounds for eels, and several isolated springs are “owned” by a resident bull alligator.
Current Spring Conditions, Threats, and Protection Efforts
Because groundwater ends up in springs, people can and do have a big impact on the health of the water. The draw of springs has resulted in increased development of and extraction from them. People have a huge impact on the levels of water in springs. Florida springs put out about 8 billion gallons a day. Currently, we extract and use about 7.5 billion gallons of fresh groundwater a day in Florida. In 1975, the amount used was less than half this total—3.3 billion gallons per day (Rosenau et al., 1977, p. 1). Sixty percent of Florida's drinking water comes from the Floridan Aquifer (Hartnett, 2000, p. 8). In all, an estimated 93% of the population of Florida uses ground water for drinking (Marella & York, 1998).
Many springs, including Blue in Volusia County, are already showing decreased flow levels because of water extraction (primarily private or municipal wells but also for bottled water) in their recharge areas or watersheds. Human extraction of water from the aquifer is a growing concern. In fact, most springs in Florida recorded reduced flow from 1998-2001, but it is not clear how much of the reduction was due to greater human use and how much was due to drought conditions and record-high temperatures.
Floridians have drunk water from Florida springs for thousands of years. Numerous towns were established at or named for springs, including Green Cove Springs, Crystal River, Homosassa, High Springs, Fanning Springs, White Springs, Weeki Wachee, Panacea, Worthington Springs, Salt Springs, Welaka, Altamonte Springs, Ellaville, Luraville, Hampton Springs, and Spring Creek. With the state’s explosive growth, more and more water is extracted from the springs and Floridan Aquifer each year. An estimated 750 million gallons of water from Florida—much of it from springs—are now being extracted by water bottling companies each year, the third-largest amount of any state after California and Texas. Presently, bottlers extract about 2 million gallons a day from springs and are permitted to withdraw up to 8 million gallons (Call & Stephenson, 2003, p. 42).
Besides extraction of water for drinking, agriculture, watering, and industrial use, there are other threats to Florida’s springs. “The quantity and quality of spring discharge are vulnerable to the effects of activities that occur within spring recharge basins. The nature and magnitude of the threats varies according to land use practices and geology within each spring recharge basin” (Hartnett, 2000, p. 10). Run-off from roads, lawns, golf courses, and farms; erosion; exotic plant infestation; leaking septic systems near the aquifer and springs; nitrate; waste disposal, manure, fertilizer, mining, and development are polluting springs and destroying their unique and fragile ecosystems.
Over 30% of the first-magnitude springs have fecal coliform levels that exceed allowable levels for drinking. Levels of nitrates are increasing steadily in springs with watersheds that encompass intensive human and agricultural activity. Blue Spring in Jackson County, for example, discharges an estimated 590 tons of nitrate each year; populations of apple snails, crawfish, and limkin at this site have plummeted or disappeared altogether. In terms of sources, 65% of nitrate is from fertilizer, 25% is from animal waste, and the remainder is from other sources. Overall, there has been a 1,900% increase in the level of nitrate in first-magnitude springs since the early 1970s. Levels of other total dissolved solids--such as alkaline, calcium and sulfate, have also increased significantly in the first-magnitude springs and probably other springs as well; the smaller springs have not yet been systematically measured for these elements.
The Ocklawaha River has 20 known springs that are inundated by the Rodman Reservoir. This reservoir, originally part of the economically well-meaning but ultimately disastrous and aborted Cross-Florida Barge Canal Project, flooded 16 miles of the river as well as 9,000 acres of floodplain to create a mostly stagnant lake in a region that already had over 2,000 natural lakes but only a few rivers. The inundation has disrupted the flow of the historic springs along the river. There are ongoing discussion and debate about the reservoir and proposals to drain it and restore the Ocklawaha River.
James Stevenson, founding head of the Florida Springs Task Force while he was at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, is a leading voice in spring conservation and protection. He notes that,
In order to protect the water quality and natural discharge of a Florida spring, we must know its recharge area, the source of its water. Knowledge of the recharge area (watershed) enables the identification of land uses that will degrade water quality or reduce discharge. Spring basin working groups have been formed to address this issue and consist of agencies and landowners and users to develop plans and solutions. Such groups have had success in the Wakulla and Ichetucknee basins. (“Abstracts of . . .” 2000, p. 20)As Stevenson's comments suggest, the spring is as much the "end of the pipe" as the beginning, and people are having increasing and increasingly negative impacts on spring water and spring flow. Recent years have seen more bad new than good in terms of spring conditions. Several more springs, including Running, Otter, Cow, Bathtub, Wekiwa (in Levy County) and Crystal (in Hillsborough County) have been blocked from public access because of development or water extraction. Others, including Crystal River, Sun, Chassahowitzka, and Wakulla, suffer from rising levels of pollutants and exotic plant infestation. Health (or Wall) Spring in Pinellas County, and Sulphur Spring in Tampa--both once-popular sites for people seeking health cures--are now so unhealthy that they are closed and fenced off.
Some spring systems recharge very quickly, which means that water and pollutants travel underground for only a few days before rising again out of a spring. These systems are considered high recharge springs and are located in areas where the aquifer is very near the surface and there are conduits such as sinkholes that allow rapid entry of surface flow into the aquifer. Low recharge areas have additional layers of rock or clay that slow the seeping of ground water into the aquifer and thence into springs. But given that water resides underground 10-40 years on average before reemerging from springs (Katz et al., in Abstracts of . . . 2003), pollution from today will continue to be a problem far into the future. Some springs also discharge a combination of "older" and "younger" ground water, and tests of this water can determine the sources and health of the spring water (Champion & Starks, May 2001, p. 13).
Many springs are now tested regularly for flow, temperature, clarity and physical/content parameters such as dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrate, hardness, choloride, aklalinity, nitrogen, coloform, dissolved solids, potassium, sulfate, and turbidity. Scientists hope to understand content and flow characteristics of springs, measure changes over time, and determine the impacts of climate, development, pollution, extraction, etc., on the spring water, flora, and fauna. More sophisticated analyses have revealed large impacts from even small increases in pollutants such as nitrate. Nitrate levels as low as 0.1 mg/L have resulted in algae blooms and loss of population of apple snails and the animals that feed on them.
Thirteen of Florida's 33 first-magnitude springs have a record of data collection going back to 1948. According to Copeland (in Abstracts of . . . 2003), "nitrate has increased in the 13 first-magnitude springs almost 20-fold" (p. 10). This increase is entirely manmade--it is directly related to land use in the springs' recharge areas. The level of total dissolved solids has also increased, but it is not known whether this latter increase is due to manmade pollution or decreases in rainfall amounts.
The Department of Environmental Protection, counties, and water management districts have protected and opened several new parks or recreation areas at springs, including at Anderson, Falmouth, Ruth, Troy, Salt (in Pinellas County), and Big Creek. The Florida Geological Survey is installing monitor wells at a number of springs to assess water conditions over time for both the springs and their conduits. Continued and increased public awareness and action are key to keeping spring protection ahead of spring development and deterioration. In its 2000 report, the Florida Springs Task Force cites three concepts as being at the foundation for education about, and action on behalf of, Florida springs:
1. A spring is only as healthy as its recharge basin or springshed.
2. Activities within springsheds can and do have adverse impacts on the quality and quantity of ground water. This affects spring flow, water quality, and the health of spring-run ecosystems.
3. Protection of spring water must occur before the water reaches the spring.
From these starting points, developers, elected officials, landowners, framers, water managers, and others can plan and implement best management practices to reduce, ameliorate, or eliminate adverse impacts on springs.
Deciding which springs to protect and the order in which to proceed is affected by priorities, funding levels, public attention, policy, and politics. Staff at state agencies and water management districts (as well as county and city staff and policymakers) face difficulties in getting and sustaining support for springs research, protection, education, restoration, acquisition, etc. Such efforts, even when support is in place, are complicated, expensive, time-intensive, and often politically charged. At the 2003 Florida Springs Conference, a staff person from one water management district noted that the initial analysis/research required to make recommendations on things like minimum flow levels takes about three years. After that--and before further action can be taken--other steps include peer review of the data, production and dissemination of reports, public input and meetings, writing rules, formulating cost estimates, and (if recommendations are challenged) public hearings, depositions, judgments, and appeals. Policies must be based on sound science and able to withstand legal challenges.
On September 30, 2003, the Florida Cabinet approved new rules and restrictions on development, planting, and other activities near springs and their runs and tributaries. According the the Tallahassee Democrat (Oct. 1, 2003),
the rule forbids physical modifications of springs, except restoration of historic contours and flow conditions, and prohibits installation of any new facilities - or modification of existing facilities - that take water out of a spring or spring run. Pre-existing water use would not be affected. No new sand or fill materials could be deposited within 100 feet of a spring or spring run to create or maintain an artificial beach. And within 300 feet of the state-owned waters, no planting or cultivation of invasive plants would be allowed, no 'removal or trampling' of native vegetation would be permitted if it caused erosion or sedimentation in the water, and no wastewater treatment drain field or sprayfields could be installed (Cotterell, pp. A1-2).Existing extraction operations and homes near spring are exempted from the new rules, as are cattle that wade, graze, and do other things near and in springs and their runs adjacent to private land.
Describing Florida Springs
While this Guide may be the largest, it is far from the first systematic attempt to describe Florida springs. From the early (and still unsurpassed) writings of John and William Bartram in the 1700s; to 19th century promoters of spring “cures;” to praises from Harriet Beecher Stowe, Archie Carr, and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas; to today’s travel and scientific writers and web-site creators, people have tried to describe, define, catalog, or otherwise capture the visual and aesthetic allure of Florida springs. See “Quotes About Florida Springs, a Bit of Poetry . . .” (http://www.tfn.net/springs/Springbook/Quotes.htm) for a sample of some of the more moving and memorable descriptions of Florida springs.
For individuals infected with spring fever, Bulletin 31, Springs of Florida, a 1977 publication by the then-called Florida Department of Natural Resources, was the definitive spring text for a generation. The 1977 publication was itself an expansion and update of the original 1947 bulletin. The 1977 edition described and photographed more than 300 springs as well as provided baseline water content data, directions, and a bit of information on utilization and history for individual springs. This thorough and accurate publication, which has guided the authors of this Guide to dozens of springs, is now dated and being revised. In 2001, funds from the Florida Legislature provided support for a revised edition of Bulletin 31. The new edition (slated for publication in fall 2004) will describe over 400 spring and include information on springs geology, history, water chemistry, and sampling protocols as well as detailed directions to each spring. A compact disk with photographs will accompany the publication (Means, October, 2003).
A related new resource, First Magnitude Springs of Florida: Florida Geological Survey Open File Report No. 85, focuses on Florida’s first-magnitude springs. The publication is now available, and was produced by the Florida Geological Survey (FGS). The Hydrology and Water Quality of Select Springs in the Southwest Florida Water Management District, published in May 2001 (Champion & Starks), is another excellent recent publication. The Suwannee River, St. Johns River, and Southwest Florida Water Management Districts have also published compilations of springs in their districts.
This Guide provides the information for over 500 springs in north and central Florida. Most of the springs have full descriptions that contain the following:
- A summary and rating of features,
- Precise directions and links to an excellent companion web site by Greg Johnson that contains an array of other directional and imagery information,
- Detailed physical descriptions,
- Photographs (over half the springs have photos),
- Information on access, recreation, and other utilization
- History and lore, including historic descriptions in some cases,
- Lists of other springs and preserved areas near each spring,
- Contact information (where applicable), and
- Personal observations.
The Guide also provides the following information:
- Information on how to adopt a spring,
- Spring quotes and poetry,
- Spring references in the Bible,
- Summaries of research and speculation on the legend of the Fountain of Youth,
- Two dozen essays related to Florida springs that Joe Follman recorded for WFSU-FM, Tallahassee’s National Public Radio affiliate,
- An bibliography on springs compiled by Frank Rupert.
- A list of spring Internet sites, and
- Lists of springs rated good for swimming, snorkeling, young children, canoeing, camping, or for people with disabilities.
The authors have visited most of the springs described in the Guide, but also relied on other accounts from individuals, publications, and the Internet. Researching, locating, and writing about Florida springs has been a hobby of the authors, who both have full-time jobs in unrelated areas, since 1993. They visit springs on occasional weekends and on side trips while traveling for work. The authors will continue visiting springs and updating the Guide on a periodic basis. We hope you enjoy the Guide and find it a useful tool for visiting Florida springs and learning more about them.
A Note About Access
The paths/routes/roads/trails to a number of springs are blocked by fences/gates, signposted as being on or adjacent to private property, or are surrounded by private property. The only instructions the authors can give to others interested in visiting springs is to respect private property and not trespass. Many of the springs that are described and photographed in this Guide are on or adjacent to private property. In as many cases as possible, the authors were given permission to access such springs or canoed to them via a navigable waterway. In some instances, they traversed shallow spring runs. One spring in Jackson County, Sandbag Spring, has been framed by sandbags into the shape of a pool in the back of a house along a river. And while it is legal for visitors to paddle up the run to this spring, the authors were very uncomfortable canoeing into someone's backyard "pool" and relieved that no one was home at the time. Seeing a spring is not worth a confrontation with a landowner who may be angry or even armed. Stay off posted property and avoid trouble.