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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Where can I go to see manatees?

Posted December 24, 2006
If you want to see manatees in the wild, the best time to do so is now -- during the cold winter months -- when these gentle mammals leave the cool ocean for the warmer water of spring-fed streams and rivers. Three of the most popular places to view sea cows are Crystal River and Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park in Citrus County and Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County. Another location, the Manatee Observation & Education Center in Fort Pierce, offers year-round opportunities to learn about and see manatees in their natural setting.
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Great idea, but more info needed

Published Dec. 22, 2006 Opinion
One need look no further than this year's $76 million deal for the Avatar property near Silver Springs to realize the value of the state's primary conservation program, Florida Forever. That purchase fended off a major development project on nearly 4,500 acres of water recharge area just north of historic Silver Springs.

To prevent that, an array of 16 leading environmental groups - including Audubon of Florida, 1,000 Friends of Florida and The Nature Conservancy, which helped broker the Avatar deal - have joined to fight for Florida Forever's life.

In an open letter to state residents on Oct. 9, these groups, under an umbrella organization called the Florida Forever Coalition, issued a call to arms. They urged state officials to act by 2008 to extend the program, now set to expire in 2010, and to expand its reach by tripling its annual budget from $300 million to $1 billion.
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County adopts springs protection amendment

Published Dec. 21, 2006
By a unanimous vote, the commission adopted a springs protection amendment to the county's comprehensive plan that will direct future development in a way that safeguards the county's drinking water supply.

The amendment as approved by the commission Wednesday calls for the adoption of new county land development regulations, known as LDRs, which contain specific requirements that must be met to ensure that development in spring protection zones is compatible with the geology and hydrology of the area.

The amendment also requires the county to establish Springs Protection Zones - both primary and secondary zones. Where those zones overlap with Environmentally Sensitive Overlay Zones, the more restrictive regulations will apply.
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Wakulla Springs

Originally published December 20, 2006
Talks produce crucial safeguards
It didn't come easily and it took much longer than defenders of Wakulla Springs had hoped. But now the environmentally sickened treasure has a fighting chance of eventually recovering.

Tallahassee's agreement to spend about $160 million to upgrade two wastewater treatment plants is expected to ultimately result in lowering the high levels of nitrogen in the springs - at a cost roughly 60 percent higher than the city had planned.
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Agreement on spray field signed

Originally published December 20, 2006
City agrees to improve wastewater treatment
Improving Tallahassee's wastewater is needed to protect Wakulla Springs, but it "doesn't come free," Mayor John Marks said Tuesday.

Marks and Gov.-elect Charlie Crist joined Wakulla County Commission Chairman Brian Langston and other legal challengers to the city's spray field in signing an agreement Tuesday to drop their legal challenges to the spray field in return for the city improving its wastewater treatment.

The city agreed to spend $160 million to upgrade its wastewater plants within six years to reduce nitrogen by 75 percent.
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Officials emphasize need to conserve water

Published: Dec 20, 2006
Hernando County residents are using several more million gallons each month than what is allowed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District

A layer of salty groundwater underlies the fresh groundwater in the Floridan Aquifer. When the fresh groundwater is pumped out at too high a rate, the salty groundwater could get drawn up and, mix with fresh water, rendering it undrinkable.

Spring flows are affected as well. So far, the springs that are the source of the Weekiwachee River are in the normal range, Molligan said.

A stressed aquifer also increases the frequency of sinkhole development. When heavy withdrawals from groundwater remove water from underground caverns, sinkholes are more likely to form.
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Wakulla to drop its spray-field challenge

December 19, 2006, Tallahassee Democrat
Wakulla County agreed Monday to drop its legal challenge to Tallahassee's wastewater spray field in exchange for the city agreeing to upgrade its two wastewater-treatment plants.

The city sprays up to 20 million gallons of treated wastewater daily on crops at its Southeast Farm on Tram Road. Scientists say the wastewater is a likely source of nitrogen in groundwater that's causing Wakulla Springs to become choked with weeds and algae.
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Florida's Wild Rivers Increasingly Polluted, Experts Say

Published December 18, 2006
The pollution is threatening the health of the unspoiled Suwannee River, which runs for more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) through northern Florida to the Gulf of Mexico.

One businessman in Lake City has created the Ichetucknee Promise. In this program, homeowners pledge to reduce the use of lawn fertilizer, have their septic tanks inspected, and write a letter to the local city council and their county commissioner asking that more be done to protect the Ichetucknee.

The promise is sealed with a 50-dollar contribution to fund the construction of drinking water wells in developing countries.
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Into an urban state in a New York minute

Published December 19, 2006 Editorial
The first report, "Florida 2060: A Population Distribution Scenario for the State of Florida," projects that, based on current development patterns, the population of Florida will double in the next 50 years -- to about 36 million (long since passing New York to become the third largest state) -- and that the amount of urbanized land in the state also will double.

Florida Forever enables us to create and protect permanently state and local parks and greenways, and to preserve the Florida Keys, rivers and springs. It guarantees protection for sensitive watersheds and aquifers and allows for places to hunt and fish.

The Florida Forever Coalition -- comprising The Trust for Public Land, 1,000 Friends of Florida and more than a dozen other organizations -- believes that we must expand Florida Forever to $1 billion annually. This step would provide incalculable benefit to the health of our communities, environment and economy
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Friday, December 22, 2006

Volunteering to be in muck & cold water

High Spring Herald
Water lettuce, an invasive species in the Ichetucknee River, is picked out manually each week by dedicated volunteers with the goal of maintaining the water lettuce by 2010.

The plants can cover vast areas of rivers with dense packs of water lettuce that prevent sunlight from reaching plants and animals below the water’s surface and consume much of the oxygen in the water.

The plants also can inhibit boats and rafts from going down a river, and that affects the tourism industry. Water lettuce becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which deters tourists from visiting as well.

Each month, Ichetucknee Springs State Park hosts clean-ups with 50 to 75 people. The upcoming dates are Dec. 16, Jan. 20, Feb. 17, March 17, April 21, May 19 and June 9.
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More Info

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's a long road to nuclear plant

Published December 14, 2006
A big utility could bring increased boat traffic into the barge canal, which manatees use as a birthing area.

But Helen Spivey, co-chairwoman of the Save the Manatee Club, said she doesn't expect that a new nuclear plant would necessarily attract any more manatees into the barge canal.
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Local, state officials discuss agenda

Published December 12, 2006
Water was also a main topic. County Commissioner Paula DeLaney and High Springs Mayor Tom DePeter said protection of Alachua County's springs is a priority.

"The Florida Springs Protection Act was introduced in the last two sessions. It has made it through each committee only to run out of time at the end of the session," DeLaney said. "We hope that you will follow this one. We feel this is an important piece of legislation for our area in particular and the state to ensure adequate protection of our springs in the future."
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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Finding Florida: Here There Be Mermaids

The heyday may be over but the charm remains in Weeki Wachee. Fifteen mermaids swim year around in the 72-degree water of the natural spring. A theater, built when the American Broadcasting Company owned the attraction, still provides guests with a below-the-surface view through the crystal clear water. As a natural spring, the mermaids sometimes have to compete with the occasional unexpected visitors.
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Study offers glimpse into Florida's future

Published December 7, 2006 Tallahassee Democrat
Florida's population is expected to double by 2060, gobbling up open space and encircling Wakulla Springs with development, according to a study released Wednesday.

To the south, urban development would encircle the state park and state forest surrounding Wakulla Springs. Development also would increase in Sopchoppy and Panacea.
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Suwannee marina may serve as hub on paddling trail

Published December 06, 2006
A state land acquisition council will vote this week on buying a marina in the town of Suwannee to serve as the southern hub of the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail.

The paddling trail stretches 170 miles from White Springs to Suwannee. Hubs for paddlers to launch into the river and to get out for lodging and services in nearby towns are being located along the waterway.

The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail is a $10 million joint effort by the state and the Suwannee River Water Management District. The trail provides a more organized way for people to paddle the Suwannee, said John Webb of Suwannee River Canoe and Kayak in Branford.
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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A creek runs through it

Published December 04, 2006
Sometimes it’s a creek. And sometimes it’s mostly a sandy path down through the woods. Officially, it’s known as Okapilco Creek that meanders through the Moultrie city limits on down to Brooks County and into the Suwannee River Basin.

The wastewater treatment plant on West Bypass is at capacity, for all practical purposes. The plant is 20-plus years old. The state allows this facility to discharge four million gallons of treated effluent into the Ochlockonee River each day. At the moment, 3.5 million gallons are being discharged, and that extra 500,000 gallons can be immediately taken up by the 700-planned residential units now being approved within the city limits, Hopkins said. That leaves no room for industry and commercial development.


It is speculated that much of the reduced flow in the Okapilco, outside of dry weather, is that many ponds have been built up stream in that watershed, stocking water for farming and recreation, thus reducing flow. That also has affected the flow of the Ochlockonee River which begins as just a creek on the Colquitt -Worth line. The Ochlockonee flows into the Gulf of Mexico at Panacea, Fla., after combining with Crooked River and Sopchoppy River just above Highway 98 as well as many creeks and branch heads along the way.
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A photojournalist's family tests the waters

Published December 03, 2006
We picked out our wet suits and headed a few blocks away to Hunter Spring Park, where Faulkenberg would meet us with the boat. We had chosen Faulkenberg, who has operated Manatee Safaris for more than 10 years, because he specializes in small groups. The day of our trip, we had the boat to ourselves.

Crystal River is an important winter habitat for manatees and one of the few places were humans can interact with them in the wild. Fed by more than 30 warm-water springs, King's Bay maintains a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit. So, as the water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico drops below 70 F, manatees start migrating along the coast to warm-water havens like Crystal River.

Magnolia Springs has much deeper water and was a bit cloudier than Three Sisters Springs.
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Recreational outpost hot on trail of fun

Posted December 2, 2006 Orange Sentinel
A trio of parks linked by the county's Spring-to-Spring Trail offers those and other activities, including boating and camping at Lake Monroe Park, which sits on the northern side of the U.S. Highway 17-92 bridge

The 42-acre park has a boat ramp, picnic areas, volleyball court and a small campground. It also serves as a trailhead for a 2.4-mile section of trail that meanders through cypress swamp and other habitats as it winds its way north toward the 210-acre Gemini Springs park.

The trail is expected to eventually stretch some 24 miles to link with Blue Spring State Park, Lake Beresford Park and DeLeon Springs State Park, but for now DeBary Hall is the end of the line.
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Santa Over the Rainbow

Live music begins at 6 p.m. Dec. 8 with Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving by decorated pontoon sleigh at 7 at Rainbow Springs State Park, 19158 SW 81st Place Road, Dunnellon. The Clauses will oversee two weekends of musical entertainment, concession stands, handmade crafts in the gift shop, photo opportunities with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and lights from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 8, 9, 10, and 15, 16 and 17. The park will be open for quiet time to enjoy the lights from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 22, 23, and 26 and 27. Entrance fee is $1; free admission for children younger than 6. For information, call (352)465-8555.
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Wakulla Springs State Park

Florida getaways
You've heard of '50s creature feature Creature from the Black Lagoon? Well, this was where the underwater scenes were filmed. You'll learn that and more at the visitors center, down at the boat dock, where you can peruse historical exhibits about the area.

Or, jump aboard a 40-minute riverboat cruise of the Wakulla River to take in the park's sights, sounds and smells. If you're lucky, the spring's water will be clear and the glass-bottom boats will be running, too. For would-be hikers, there are several short trails from which to choose, all of which are level and easy to negotiate. The newest begins in back of the lodge and leads to several small sinkholes.
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Friday, December 01, 2006

State wields heavy hand at Blue Spring

Published November 30, 2006 Commentary
For years, swimmers and manatees at Blue Spring State Park got along just fine.

During the cold months, when the waters of the St. Johns get too chilly, manatees would retreat into the warmth of the spring run, which to them is like one long hot tub.

While the manatees wintered, rangers closed the front two-thirds or so of the run to swimmers, leaving open a short section leading to the spring boil, which is a favorite among area cave divers.
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Wal-Mart tells High Springs that aquifer will be protected at I-75 site

Published 11/30/06
Wal-Mart officials are going above and beyond required measures to protect the area’s sensitive water supply from getting polluted, Wal-Mart representatives said Tuesday.

The meeting centered around the area’s water supply, which many feared could be polluted from an Alachua Wal-Mart Supercenter proposed for near the Interstate 75 interchange, which also is close to Mill Creek Sink.
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Wal-Mart: Store won't taint water in Alachua County

Published November 29. 2006
Wal-Mart representatives gave assurances Tuesday that the company's planned store in Alachua wouldn't pollute groundwater.

But High Springs officials and residents continued to question the project. High Springs Commissioner Kirk Eppenstein said he wanted the company to commit to stronger standards for its stormwater system and studies of an underground cave system.

The focus of the debate is a wellfield intended to be used as High Spring's future water supply. An Alachua County-funded study found that dye placed in a sinkhole near the Wal-Mart site traveled within 13 days to Hornsby Springs, just north of High Springs. The wellfield is located between the store site and the spring.
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Sing along to the surf rock tunes of the Big Kahunas

...and help save Wakulla Springs at the same time by paddling out to the benefit concert from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday at the American Legion Hall at Lake Ella. Cost is a $10 donation to the Friends of Wakulla Springs Organization.
Published November 29, 2006 Tallahassee Democrat
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