Last week we introduced you to the wonderfully-made complexity of Florida’s water. The ecosystem of aquifer, rain water, surface water and more that we enjoy for recreation and use for homes, agriculture, and industry. We hope you took a moment to watch the first six minutes of “Troubled Waters: Consequences and Connections” which clearly explained how nature works to supply the city of Tampa with drinking water.
From the Green Swamp to headwaters of the Hillsborough River, to our water processing facilities to a faucet in your home – it is marvelous and mysterious and, sadly, we never give it a second thought. At least not until something horrific happens
Just several months ago, a massive sinkhole opened underneath a processed-gypsum retention pond at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Mulberry. It is estimated to have dumped at least 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridian Aquifer. The water was highly acidic and laced with sulfate and sodium; an unknown amount of gypsum, a fertilizer byproduct with low levels of radiation also was dumped into our aquifer.
The big disasters get our attention, but stress on the ecosystem of our water is a daily occurrence. Who is to blame? Everyone who uses water is contributing to the problem. According to the High Springs Institute, Floridian aquifer levels have fallen below what is necessary to maintain a healthy aquifer-spring system. A 10- to 20-foot reduction in aquifer levels is enough to stop a spring from flowing. The water flowrate from Silver Springs near Ocala already is reduced 60 percent. Some urban areas have recorded 30- to 90-foot drops. According to the United States Geological Survey, groundwater in the Tampa–St. Petersburg area has been pumped to the point that saltwater has entered the supply, a series of sinkholes have formed and surface water has been depleted.
The lack of flow to the springs can be devastating on both an environmental level and an economic level because so many tourists and residents come to the springs for recreational purposes. Water flow is the lifeblood of the springs, so when you reduce their flow, more algae forms reducing water clarity and resulting in the stagnant, brackish water that repels both people and wildlife. If the spring goes dry, it can turn those vibrant natural resources into waterless holes in the ground – and cause downstream problems.
Here in the Tampa Bay area we are familiar with the red tide algae blooms in the Gulf, but we also need to be attentive to the green algae blooms in the springs, rivers, and swamp areas. An overabundance of nutrients and nitrogen from agriculture (9.5 million acres of farmland/ fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides), septic tanks (did you know there are 2.7 million septic tanks in Florida?), construction-site runoff, licensed industrial waste, illegal dumping, and other sources are endemic in Florida. And all of this only will increase as development continues, adding more contaminants and using more water.
Just to the northeast of us in Osceola County, major changes are under way. The County Commissioners have adopted a plan that would transform 133,000 acres of ranchland (Deseret Ranch) into a major new urban area of 500,000 people. When it all comes to pass, one of the least populated areas of Florida (straddling Osceola, Orange and Brevard counties) would blossom into a megalopolis larger than Orlando, Kissimmee, Apopka and Winter Park combined. Think about the amount of ground that will be covered in concrete, no longer able to absorb rain water. Also consider where the 500,000 new residents will get drinking water. While this affects the St. Johns River system, the effects echo through the aquifer to us.
“…we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast. In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God, for ‘if the world has a beginning and if it has been created, we must inquire who gave it this beginning, and who was its Creator.’ Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.” [Laudato si, 244]