Monday, April 23, 2018
Opinion

Where's the outrage about Florida's ailing springs?

If you're monitoring the news these days, you're hearing about the declining state of one of Florida's most spectacular natural assets, its world-class concentration of first-magnitude springs in northern Florida.

These deep chasms of water that once boiled furiously upward to the delight of generations of local swimmers and thrill-seeking tourists have now slowed to only a vestige of their former strength by drought and overpumping. Worse yet, many have also become clouded with sediment and slime fed by the nutrient-rich seepage of over-fertilized golf courses, lawns, farm fields and septic tanks. The fish that at one time you could see as if in an aquarium are nearly gone.

Are you concerned, agitated and fearful about what's happening? Worried about what's being done about it? Or have you just become numb to the thought, kind of like the Israelis have become numb to the fact that the Palestinians have rockets aimed at their homes from three directions? (Okay, so the analogy's a stretch, but stay with me.)

I had just watched 60 Minutes on CBS and learned that despite having rockets pointed their way and suicide bombers threatening every public gathering with mass murder, Tel Aviv residents have become "numb," as a reporter put it. They go to the beach, to the restaurants and the bars and carry on normal and apparently happy lives as if there were nothing to worry about. An observer noted that it seems they have become hopeless because they believe there is little they can do about it all, so why worry.

Importantly, he noted that ignoring the danger does nothing to lessen the genuine danger that exists for them. Point being, ignoring a threat to one's way of life will not make the threat go away.

The problem with Florida's springs, while certainly not as lethal, is similar. While one can hear the wailing of those with a particular emotional appreciation for Florida's natural environment, the silence from the majority of Floridians is deafening. Have they become numb to the reality that these unique natural treasures are being taken from them and have simply given up hope that anything can be done to stop it? Like the Tel Avivians, have they simply decided to go to the mall?

Those in a position to do something about the obvious deterioration are ignoring the problem, and most of us are just shrugging our shoulders. Just as Iran's ambition to become a nuclear nation seems so unstoppable by our elected leaders, so is the continuing deterioration of Florida's springs. State legislators continue to pander to the moneyed elite and ignore the insidious decay beneath their feet. Florida's world-renowned environmental legacy is at risk while they haggle over how best to cut the cost of protecting some of the state's greatest natural assets because "regulation kills jobs."

This studied denial of the importance of natural Florida has pervaded even the self-aggrandizing publication of the Department of Environmental Protection. If you visit its Florida State Parks website at tinyurl.com/tbtimes-wakulla, you'll find this warning about the historic and once incredibly beautiful Wakulla Springs:

"Glass-bottom boat tours over the spring basin have become the exception rather than the rule in recent years. Tea-stained or green water impedes the penetration of light needed to view the impressive features of the 120-foot-deep chasm of Wakulla Spring. Heavy rains, combined with other unknown factors, are thought to be the cause of decreased visibility.

"To avoid disappointment, it is strongly suggested that the park be contacted prior to expected visitation to ascertain the feasibility of glass-bottom boat operation. Water quality conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly."

It is unfathomable that the state agency responsible for "getting the water right" has become so blase about such a disaster that it blandly warns visitors to check first because the spring has become prone to green scum and clouded water instead of the crystal-clear natural wonder it used to be. Have we all become so used to the indifference of our elected leaders that to read this on the primary website where all of Florida's parks are marketed to the world we are yet not appalled and offended as we should be?

Well, I'm appalled, even if I'm only one of a few. And I'm disgusted. I'm going to start seeking out my elected representatives and asking why they aren't as well. You should, too.

Sonny Vergara, who lives in Brooksville, is the former executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority.

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