After a major fish kill in Brevard County, Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham is raising awareness about water quality in north Florida. Graham hosted a “work day” Tuesday at Wakulla Springs.
Jim Stevenson is a former biologist with the Florida Parks Service. He’s retired now, but Tuesday he led Congresswoman Gwen Graham on a tour of the Wakulla Springs watershed.
“You know you can’t have a healthy head if your body is sick,” he says, “and what we’ve been looking at today is the body of Wakulla Springs.”
The trip starts at Cascades Park in Tallahassee. It may be a nice place for concerts in the summer, but one of its chief design goals is actually storm water management. From Cascades, Stevenson took the North Florida Democrat to Lake Munson.
“This was just a glass of water that they took out of the lake,” Graham says, holding up a round, white filter insert stained brown by algae.
When water is too rich in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, algae blooms—pulling oxygen out of the water and potentially killing fish.
“What really made this important for me today was seeing the fish kill that recently has occurred south of us,” Graham says, “and it just kind of brings it all together how important water quality is for our whole ecological system.”
That fish kill in Brevard County’s Banana River is an extreme example. But spiking nutrient levels in the Wakulla Spring Shed have led to smaller scale fish kills as well.
After Lake Munson water flows into Ames sink and then Stevenson says it continues underground until it hits Wakulla springs.
“It’s a really interesting journey to follow the water across the landscape and see where it disappears underground and then to come here and see it rising back to the surface,” he says.
When that water returns to the surface it’s still murky. Graham talks about seeing crystal clear water when she visited as a kid, but Wakulla Springs Park Biologist Scott Savery explains it’s not like that anymore.
“It will clear to fifty, sixty feet. We try to get to seventy, seventy five feet then we would run glass bottom boats,” Savery says, “and usually spring times the best time for that to happen, historically.
“It just hasn’t happened the last two to three years, I think.”
Savery says perfect visibility is about 120 feet. But heavy rain in the last week cut it to just three feet during Graham’s visit.