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Raking algae from the Weeki Wachee is great — but it won't save the spring

Clumps of algae are common along the Weeki Wachee in areas protected from the stream’s main current.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2003)

Clumps of algae are common along the Weeki Wachee in areas protected from the stream’s main current.

To politicians who doubt the broad appeal of environmental protection — at least the protection of local, poster-worthy natural landmarks — I give you the Rotary Club.

I'm talking about a project called Save Weeki Wachee Springs, which is modeled after the One Rake at a Time cleanup of Kings Bay in Crystal River.

It will take real commitment — wading into the Weeki Wachee to rake up the stringy, green-black algae that is smothering the spring and piling this slimy glop on kayaks and pontoon boats.

It will be done, starting next month, not by members of the big environmental groups, the left-leaning outfits easily dismissed in right-leaning Tallahassee, and not by one of those tiny organizations with a tiny focus — say nearby homeowners worried that algae is making the view from their docks awfully tacky.

No, this is a rare joint project of all three Rotary clubs in Hernando County — Brooksville, Spring Hill, Spring Hill Central. They cover most of the county and represent a big, wide swath of the middle of the political spectrum.

Rotary. It doesn't get any more mainstream than that.

Based on this interest, based on the large number of people who have coincidentally talked to me about the sad state of the river and the need to do something about it, I get the sense that the Weeki Wachee has suddenly become a cause.

I get the feeling that a light has switched on over our collective head, that there's a realization that if we blow this — if we let a natural wonder on the order of the Weeki Wachee go to pot on our watch — then we've blown something really big.

Great.

Just as long as we keep in mind that raking algae isn't enough to save this or any other spring in Florida, that it's like taking an aspirin for a tumor-induced headache.

The real problem with the Weeki Wachee is nitrogen pollution, according to a draft report recently completed by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The level of nitrates in the spring is close to 1 part per million, and returning it to health would require a reduction of nearly 60 percent, according to the report, the writing of which is the first step in a process that has worked very well, many times, since the federal Clean Water Act was passed in 1972.

But most other impaired rivers were impaired by relatively few polluters. Stop them and you stop the problem.

The nitrogen in the Weeki Wachee, on the other hand, comes from the fertilizer we put on our lawns, hayfields and golf courses, from the waste in our septic tanks and wastewater treatment plants — all of it seeping through some of the most porous soil in the state. It comes from all of us, and the only way to stop it is to change the way we live and do business.

And without better regulation, it's not going to happen.

So, we need to tell our County Commission it needs to require septic tank inspections, not pass on them as it did last year.

We need short political careers for lawmakers who keep insisting on shorter and shorter permitting processes for dirty industries. We need to howl in protest when the state agency that is supposed to protect our environment keeps firing employees who care about protection.

If we want to save our springs — and I think we do — we need to do all these things.

And get out and rake algae.

Raking algae from the Weeki Wachee is great — but it won't save the spring 06/28/13 [Last modified: Friday, June 28, 2013 9:12pm]
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