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swfwmd testing water quality

Learning about Water Management via Kayak

By Florida's Original NatureCoaster™ Posted on October 31, 2019

It’s commonly called “swift mud” locally in a mispronunciation of the initials defining the Southwest Water Management District (SWFWMD).

SWFWMD is one of five water management districts in Florida, and the District covers sixteen counties including Florida’s Nature Coast. It is headquartered in Brooksville, Florida.

Today, the Southwest Florida Water Management District defines its responsibilities as managing the water supply, protecting water quality and preserving natural systems that serve important water-related functions. It is funded by ad valorem taxes. Its mission is to protect water resources, minimize flood risks and ensure the public’s water needs are met.

A major project is protecting Florida’s natural springs. The Nature Coast area has five first-magnitude springs: Chassahowitzka Springs, Crystal River/Kings Bay, Homosassa Springs, Rainbow Springs, and Weeki Wachee Springs. A first-magnitude spring discharges a minimum of 64.6 million gallons of water per day. Together, these five springs discharge more than a billion gallons of water daily! As you can imagine, it is imperative that we keep these water sources clean and protected for the health and well-being of Floridians.

History of the Water Management District

Inglis bypass spillway dam
Inglis bypass spillway dam image courtesy of Southwest Water Management District

It began as part of a flood control program legislated statewide in 1961. Through the 1960s, responsibility for water management was increased to include wellfield regulation (A wellfield is the land above and surrounding wells drilled into an aquifer. This land affects water quality from the wells because groundwater seeps into the aquifer, picking up minerals and contaminants along the way.)

In the 1970s, Florida’s water management districts increased their responsibilities to include well permitting, setting minimum flows and levels for various bodies of water, mapping, and quality of water improvement.

The 1980s brought land acquisition to protect these wellfields, wetlands protection, management and storage of surface waters, water conservation and shortage planning.

The 1990s added more regulatory responsibilities and a more solid land acquisition program, including planning for resources, measuring success and budget reporting.

In the new millennium, agricultural resource management and springs cleaning and protection have been added to the Districts’ repertoire.

kayaking
As part of SWFWMDs educational commitment, we were privileged to be part of a sponsored kayak adventure with two of the district’s scientists to celebrate Save Our Waters Week. Image by Diane Bedard

Save Our Waters Week

As part of SWFWMDs educational commitment, we were privileged to be part of a sponsored kayak adventure with two of the district’s scientists to celebrate Save Our Waters Week.

“We wanted to let the public have the chance to tour some of our springs projects with our Springs Team members and learn firsthand how these projects are protecting the springs,” explained Michele Sager, Lead Communications Coordinator for SWFWMD who coordinated the project and joined us on the tour.

bank stabilization
In 2015-2016, an erosion stabilization project was undertaken to fill holes under the banks of Three Sisters Springs, removing exotics and restoring native plants. Image by Diane Bedard

2016 Bank Stabilization Project

The tour stopped at Three Sisters Springs and staff explained the importance of the Bank Stabilization project at Three Sisters Springs, which was a cooperative project between the District, the City of Crystal River, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

The shoreline around the magical Three Sisters Springs was eroded and undercut due to manatees grazing on vegetation along the shore, and humans utilizing the Springs for recreational purposes. This had become a safety concern and eroded the springs’ clarity, so the four entities involved in owning and managing this treasured location worked together to stabilize the shore, adding rocks, dirt and native plants.

Testing Water Quality

Inside Three Sisters Springs, SWFWMD Springs Team member, Chris Anastasiou, did a water quality demonstration with the Secchi disc. This simple piece of equipment allows scientists to measure water clarity.

Springs Team member, Chris Anastasiou, performed a water quality demonstration with the Secchi disc. Image by Diane Bedard.

A member of the public on our tour volunteered to swim from the kayak where Chris held the Secchi Disk and when they could no longer see the big black X on the bright yellow disk, that was the length of water clarity. A simple, but effective system.

On the day of our tour, water clarity tested for 83.4 feet. The goal is to get greater than 60 feet. Three Sisters Springs is incredibly clear.

SWFWMD Resources

secchi disc
One of SWFWMD’s Springs Team scientists explains the use of the Secchi Disk to us. Image by Diane Bedard

The District has a large reservoir of resources to educate Nature Coasters about conserving water, protecting the water we have, natural systems and cycles of area bodies of water and even historical data about the lands they manage. (Remember the wellfield explanation at the beginning of the article?)

Information on conserving water, protecting water, Florida-friendly landscaping and fertilizing, water restrictions, springs, reclaimed water and even emergency storm information is available from the Residents page of their website.

There are many recreational lands owned and managed by the Southwest Water Management District and maps and guides are readily available online, as well as in print. You can order materials here.

Our Kayak Adventure

manatee watch volunteer
Alex Vaughn is a manatee watch volunteer at Three Sisters Springs. Image by Diane Bedard

September 21-28. 2019, was the 24th Annual Save Our Waters Week. Save Our Waters Week was originally formed over twenty years ago by Citrus 20/20, Inc. to bring awareness to water issues in Citrus County.

This year, 14 water-awareness activities were held, 13 of which were offered to the public free of charge. One of these was the guided tour to Three Sisters Springs from Hunter Springs Park sponsored by the Southwest Water Management District.

three sisters springs
Three Sisters Springs is a magical place, with amazing water clarity. Image by Diane Bedard

NatureCoaster was privileged to join this educational and fun activity while learning about the springs from some of the District’s top scientists that work on the Springs Team. We are grateful to SWFWMD for all that they do to help keep our water clean and available and their willingness to share their knowledge and time with us.

If you have questions about our area’s water resources, do contact the Southwest Water Management District. They are here to serve residents and businesses alike.

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