I have photographed Florida's gorgeous springs for decades, and that means — sadly — that I have documented their decline.
Nobody set out to ruin them, and it took years for this disaster to unfold. But now we need to pull together to save them. Our unique and irreplaceable springs simply can't wait.
There is hope. One bright spot is a comprehensive springs protection bill, CS/SB 1576, being pushed by a bipartisan coalition in the Florida Senate. The bill would provide more than $300 million a year for projects to protect and restore Florida's springs, including septic tank hookups, wastewater improvements and projects to restore spring flow.
It would also name 38 "Outstanding Florida Springs" and would set out to restore the quality and flow of their water. So far, the Department of Environmental Protection has determined that 22 of them don't meet state water quality standards, and another nine are still being studied. In other words, DEP says that only seven are okay. That's why we need action now.
The bill would set a deadline for water management districts to establish minimum flows and water levels. It would also require local governments near Outstanding Florida Springs to adopt fertilizer ordinances.
Like the flow of a spring, we should follow the money. The bill would direct DEP to prioritize spending on projects that would have the most benefit, including eliminating runoff from lawn fertilizer, stormwater ponds and agricultural operations.
Sponsored by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, with the support of Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs; Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee; Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby; and Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, the bill does more to protect springs than any legislation in recent memory.
But a companion House bill is stalled in committee, and Speaker Will Weatherford says wait until next year. Our springs don't have the luxury of time. Many are dead or dying now.
Certainly, the problems that plague our springs weren't all caused by developers and utilities and agribusiness and their allies in Tallahassee, and they didn't just happen on Gov. Rick Scott's watch.
With every gallon of water we use — water that otherwise would be available for our springs and the vital ecosystems they support — and with every bag of harmful fertilizer that we buy, we the people are casting a vote for the kind of Florida we want to live in.
What's needed now is a clear vision for Florida based on a water ethic with real conservation and civic water education at its core. We must stop overpumping the aquifer. And we must stop pollution at its source. We need to pass meaningful legislation that addresses these issues now.
This bill, which goes before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Monday, won't fix all that ails our springs, but it's a crucial start. Even so, its passage is far from assured and lobbyists are lined up to oppose it.
The future of our springs depends on public advocacy. If you believe our springs are worth saving, then pick up the phone and tell your legislators. And somewhere a spring will whisper, "Thank you."
Nature photographer John Moran is co-director of the Springs Eternal Project.