Natural Wonders

Bubbling natural waters of North Central Florida are under attack

Editor’s note: This article from Nov. 28, 2013 is being republished as we revisit the project from nearly a decade ago.

Exploring Florida’s natural resources

Clear, temperate water flows through limestone channels beneath North Central Florida, rising to the surface to form scores of springs that sustained early natives, amazed European explorers and delight us today – but this may only be a memory in a generation or two.

The threats are well known: diminishing flows and pollution, largely from nitrates found in fertilizers and animal waste. Our elders who grew up in this region can see how these natural wonders have degraded. Our leaders seem to lack the political will to restore our springs while there is still time.

Over more than six months, the staff of The Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun has documented the state of our springs, examined the threats and investigated solutions. We present this work in stories, photographs and videos here.

On U.S. 27 in Lafayette County between Branford and Mayo, numerous signs point the way and the distance to Troy and Convict springs, two bubbling holes where the chilled water provides adventure for scuba divers and a refreshing dip for everyone.

An industrial sprinkler sprays watered down animal waste on a field off Highway 27 near Live Oak in November 2013.

That stretch of U.S. 27 is also dairy alley — Lafayette County is one of Florida’s biggest milk producers. People making their way to the cavernous blue springs can see — and smell — brown goop shooting out of large, powerful sprinklers.

Scientists with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Suwannee River Water Management District, the University of Florida and other agencies have blamed cow manure, the nutrient-rich waste, as a primary culprit, along with fertilizer overuse, in the degradation of the region’s springs.

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