Florida's "blue gold" -- the underground fresh water aquifer -- is at risk for drying up completely thanks to funding cuts under Governor Rick Scott as well as Florida's massive water usage and environmental shortsightedness.
The flow has drastically slowed, is significantly polluted by nitrates, contains toxic algae blooms, and is becoming contaminated by salt water, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
Not only is this bad news for the state's nearly 1,000 pristine springs -- which contribute $300 million annually in tourism and connect the longest and deepest underwater cave system in the world -- it's also the very same source of Florida's drinking water.
In 2001, then-Governor Jeb Bush launched a Florida Springs Initiative, which devoted $25 million over the next decade to save the state's springs. The restoration effort was defunded in 2011 under Governor Rick Scott's administration.
Meanwhile, the biggest threats to the state's aquifers go unchecked: leaky septic tanks, excess fertilizer, and livestock waste raise pollution levels to 100 times the legal limit; and flow is diminished by groundwater withdrawals that reached 4.2 billion gallons a day in 2005.
"We have a political system in our state right now that's promoting growth at any cost," says Bob Knight, who formerly ran the Florida Springs Initiative, in the above Tampa Bay Times video.
Thanks in part to the Times' prodding, Scott's administration recently released a three-page letter outlining a renewed effort to protect Florida springs although critics say it's mostly "pork barrel projects" and contains no immediate action, only voluntary steps.
State conservationists have resorted to independent research initiatives such as the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute to keep on top of the environmental crisis even without state funding.
“The leaders of Florida are in denial that there’s a problem,” Knight told The Fine Print. “… what you have to challenge is a very rich machine that is benefiting from these groundwater withdrawals and pollution. You have people that are benefiting at the expense of the whole public, and the public is not organized, aware, or well-funded enough to do anything about it.”
Perhaps Gov. Scott just needs to spend a little time in a canoe.
Gov. Bush only launched the nation's first springs conservative initiative after taking his own personal tour of our state's majestic springs. The same guide, Jim Stevenson, who was chief naturalist of Florida’s state parks and chairman of the Florida Springs Task Force, now offers educational tours of the springs to advocate for their protection.
UPDATE: The Florida Department of Education issued a release Thursday in response to the Tampa Bay Times investigation. They hold that "over the past two years, under the leadership of Governor Scott, the Department has more than doubled the amount of money spent in the previous three fiscal years on the state’s springs."
According to the release, the department's renewed effort includes $11 million that pays for a pollution monitoring system will monitor the health of the springs wirelessly in real time. "The Department’s scientists require the most up-to-date information to continue creating solutions."
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