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Rep. Graham works Wakulla Springs

From The Democrat — by James Call, Democrat Capitol Reporter — April 5, 2016

Congresswoman Gwen Graham used her latest workday to draw attention to Wakulla Springs. A gaggle of reporters followed Graham Tuesday around Wakulla Springs State Park where she and a Florida Park Service biologist drew water samples from the spring.

Pressure from a booming north Florida population has triggered an ecological collapse at what may be the world’s largest fresh-water spring. Nitrates from septic tanks and storm water runoff heavily laced with fertilizer from Tallahassee lawns have spawned massive algae and invasive plant growth; turning what once was gin-clear water as black as coffee.

The once crystal-clear spring has attracted people for 15,000 years, according to the archeological record. Jumping from the park’s high dive platform into the Wakulla Spring has been a rite of passage for Tallahassee teenagers and university students for generations.

“I remember when the water was pristine and you could see all the way to the bottom of the spring,” said Graham who recalled visiting the spring as a child.

Glass-bottomed boats first began offering tourists a surreal vision of underwater life as early as the 1870s. On Tuesday, the water was so clouded one couldn’t see the spring bed from the shallow end of the bank. The glass-bottomed boats stopped giving tours in June of 2013.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is assembling a Basin Management Action Plan advisory committee to guide plans to reduce the amount of nitrates flowing into the spring. The nitrates feed the algae and other invasive plants which are choking the life out of the spring.

Studies have pinpointed 14,000 septic tanks in Leon and Wakulla counties contributing nitrates to the Wakulla watershed. It could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to connect those homes to a centralized sewer system.

“We as a society have to decide what we are willing to pay to protect our natural resources,” said Graham when asked if Congress could contribute some money to the effort.

The Florida Legislature made available about $12 million this year for north Florida water projects, including those in the Wakulla Springs basin. The money will be distributed by the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

Reporter James Call can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com and follow on Twitter @CallTallahassee.