Springs are natural formations where water flows from the underground aquifer to the surface. Florida has 700 springs — more freshwater springs than anywhere in the world. Some think that the springs of Crystal River/Kings Bay may have been in existence for approximately 15,000 to 30,000 years, since the end of the last major ice age.
More than 50 springs are at the headwaters of Crystal River, which flows into the 600-acre Kings Bay and ultimately into the Gulf of Mexico. Many of the river’s springs are 20 to 30 feet deep. Some of the most well-known springs are King Spring, Hunters Spring, and Three Sister Springs, which often has more than 500 manatees gathering here in the winter months.
The springs discharge more than 100 cubic feet of 72-degree freshwater into Kings Bay every second—about 64 millions of gallons of water per day! The discharge from this first magnitude spring system accounts for 99 percent of the fresh water entering Kings Bay. Because of this discharge amount, the Crystal River Springs group is the second largest springs group in Florida. Those springs provide the drinking water we rely on, the recreation that fuels our economy and the beauty that makes this area such a wonderful place to live.
In the Crystal River/Kings Bay area, our abundance of beautiful, refreshing springs have attracted people here for centuries. Visitors from all over the world come to swim, snorkel, and sightsee at our springs, and they are a major economic driver.
The health of our springs is integral to the health of Kings Bay. When springs are assessed, the most common four attributes taken into consideration are flow, water clarity, aquatic vegetation, and fish and wildlife. There are several factors that affect those qualities including:
Polluted runoff from farms, sewage, wastewater, and more carries pesticides, fertilizers, and toxic chemicals into Kings Bay, increasing nitrate levels in our springs. Those nitrates help feed the toxic algae that chokes out native vegetation and reduces oxygen levels in the water, impairing wildlife.
Rainfall amounts have been declining since the 1960s, reducing the amount of groundwater that flows into the aquifer. When aquifer levels are lower, spring discharge is lower. There is less flow to the coast which affects the health of the estuary and then the bay.
Kings Bay has more saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico than in previous years due to a reduction in spring discharge and rise in sea levels due to climate change. The more salt water that is present, the harder it is for native freshwater vegetation to survive.
In 2016, the Florida Legislature adopted SB 552, a comprehensive water bill that created the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. It calls for development of recovery and prevention strategies to increase water levels and basin management action plans (BMAPs) to reduce pollutant levels. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is working with water management districts to adopt recovery and prevention strategies to ensure that water levels at Florida’s springs don’t fall below established minimum levels.
Seagrass and aquatic vegetation act as a natural filter for runoff and other pollutants that end up in our waterways. Revegetation projects are underway to remove the harmful algae (lyngbya) and reestablish aquatic plants such as eelgrass, needle rush, coastal spikerush, lance leaf arrowhead, and bakers cord grass to improve water quality.
Over the years, stormwater and wastewater systems have been improved to reduce the amount of toxins entering our waterways, including diverting wastewater discharges away from Kings Bay. Septic tanks still negatively affect groundwater that travels to and through the springs. The Florida Springs and Aquifer Act requires that the Department of Health, local governments, and utilities develop an onsite sewage treatment and disposal remediation plan in communities where at least 20 percent of the non-point source pollution within a basin is caused by septic tanks.
If you’re interested in protecting our springs, email us today to donate or volunteer.