By Erika Webb
The health of Blue Spring and water supplies of surrounding communities were discussed at the Blue Spring Alliance Workshop on May 22.
"Trying to work (to) balance the preservation of nature and the needs of man is such a challenge," DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar said.
The second floor conference room at the Historic Courthouse in DeLand was packed with city and county officials as well as agency and conservation group representatives.
The Blue Spring Alliance, formerly the Blue Spring Working Group, and the University of Central Florida's Walter and Betty Boardman Foundation hosted the roundtable forum to present local government and land management agency developments in the Blue Spring basin.
The alliance is dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of Blue Spring and the springshed.
Mary Brabham, a senior project manager with the St. Johns River Water Management District, delivered a presentation on the Springs Protection Initiative unveiled in December 2012. The initiative combines regulatory programs, science and projects to bring about long term springs protection.
"Everyone doesn't just want to hear that we're going to study things more," Ms. Brabham acknowledged.
She said a main goal of the project is to determine what the problems are, primarily with water quality in many of Florida's springs.
Scientists will examine reductions in flow at many springs; increasing nitrate concentrations; and changes in biology, such as an overgrowth of algae on spring bottoms, according to the SJRWMD website.
"Nitrate concentrations are off the chart in many Florida springs," Ms. Brabham said.
The SJRWMD has put together a team of scientists to determine, among other things, whether or not bringing the nitrate levels down would be enough to restore water quality.
"They'll look deeply into that," she said.
Ms. Brabham said climate plays a major role in problematic conditions, but the district is committed to focusing on what can be changed rather than what can't over the initiative's three-year timeline.
That commitment, she said, is being demonstrated in part through the district's approval of five new positions for water quality monitoring and an $8 million district cost share.
Toward the end of the legislative session, state lawmakers added $10 million to the $74.5 billion state budget for "the restoration, protection and preservation of Florida's springs."
"We expect some of it to come here," Ms. Brabham said.
The initiative's predominant focus, she explained, will be on Silver Springs, followed by "the next two very high priority springs": Wekiva and Blue.
"I am concerned about my spring," said DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia. "Gemini is polluted."
Ms. Brabham lent assurance by pointing to "transferrable information," which she said will be obtained from studying any of the springs because the "environments will behave similarly."
"They're all important," Ms. Brabham concluded.
Brad Blais, president of engineering firm Quentin L. Hampton and Associates, followed with an update on local efforts to support the initiative.
The firm has provided consulting services in Volusia County since 1964 and has served as DeLand's utility consultant since 1989.
QLA is preparing a Phase 3 Water Supply Plan for the West Volusia Water Suppliers -- DeLand, Deltona, Orange City and Volusia. This is the third phase of a multi-year program initiated by WVWS members.
In 2008, the DeLand City Commission approved an Interlocal Agreement with the county, Deltona and Orange City to fund the firm's preparation of a transient-groundwater model and to evaluate other projects for providing water. Potential new traditional water supplies included a new well field east of the West Volusia cities -- outside the Blue Spring groundwater influence zone, and treatment facilities for water produced from the area.
"Additional water doesn't have to come from the springshed," Mr. Blais said. "The farther from the spring, the less effect groundwater withdrawal has on the spring."
He cited Deep Creek Preserve, outside of the springshed, which he said has the resources to rehydrate the aquifer using storm water before it goes to the river. In this manner it is harvested and used for recharge.
The study also evaluates use of aquifer recharge and conservation measures to determine feasible reductions in groundwater use.
Conservation measures have proven effective and water demand in west Volusia is down," Mr. Blais said.
He indicated that current water demand from West Volusia is below 22 million gallons a day, less than it was in 2000.
Reclaimed water for irrigation can significantly reduce groundwater consumption, he explained.
Installation of a parallel set of pipelines for reclaimed water is required for reclaimed water distribution.
"It takes sewage from four residences to supply treated effluent, reclaimed water, for one residence to irrigate with," Mr. Blais said. "Therefore, it is necessary to provide alternative water supplies to augment reclaimed water, especially during peak irrigation periods."
An interconnect from the City of Sanford's surface water reclamation facility could tie into Volusia County's Southwest Water Reclamation Facility, but the plan lacks funding, Mr. Blais said.
"A lot of this is conceptual so I hesitate to get too much into where, when, etcetera," Mr. Blais said.
Of all the cities in Volusia, Daytona Beach has the greatest volume of excess reclaimed water. Again, cost for connecting to other areas is a factor.
Funding is a major obstacle and WVWS members are pursuing grants to offset the cost to rate payers, Mr. Blais said.
"A $500,000 grant has been received from the federal government to fund design activities associated with the reclaimed water interconnect project, which has been identified as a priority for the utilities," he explained.
Besides water consumption, another problem for the Blue Spring basin are invasive species.
Melissa Gibbs is associate professor of biology and director of the aquatic and marine biology program at Stetson University, as well as the secretary/treasurer of Friends of Blue Spring State Park.
She said the university has been awarded a grant for studying nutrient leaching from catfish waste in the spring run
Dr. Gibbs will research the possible contribution of the Armored Catfish waste to increasing nitrates and the fertilization of invasive plants.
She said the fish grow quickly and live to about five years.
They're getting better and better at reproduction, she added.
Sadly, they're not eating the plants they grow.
"They might be avoiding noxious algae," Dr. Gibbs said. "We'd really like to have invasive species eating other invasive species but that's not the case."
Marine Biologist Tim Harris, a supervisory biologist in the invasive plant management section of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, reported he's had his hands full, literally, with a new invasive plant species, Floating Hearts.
He said the "incredibly invasive plant" has taken over in South Carolina.
"It can cost taxpayers millions," he said.
Here, it was located in the Highbanks Marina area but he said, "Where it came from we don't know."
"We go in and remove every little scrap we can find," Mr. Harris added.
The Blue Spring Alliance is planning for its second annual Waterfest next fall as well as preparing for two academies funded with proceeds from the "Protect Florida Springs" license plate. The academies are designed to educate through tours, conservation tips and workshops with the hope participants will be able to take what they've learned and go out into the community giving presentations to various groups.
For information on the Blue Spring Alliance email: BlueSpringAlliance@cfl.rr.com.