HERNANDO COUNTY, FL – Sheli Thomas and her daughter live in Clermont, just minutes from Disney, but their magic kingdom An hour away in Hernando County.
Thomas visits Florida every spring and is forever captivated by the beauty of Wiki Wache Springs.
“Pristine Florida. Real Florida. Crystal clear, beautiful water,” she says. “Just beautiful nature.”
On Tuesday, the mother and daughter duo spent the day kayaking on the Spring River.
“The water is amazing,” Thomas said later as they loaded their boat onto the roof of her SUV. “It does look [clearer]”
Soon, the water at this natural attraction became clearer and cleaner due to events in town—at the Spring Hill Water Reclation Facility—while Thomas and her daughter were paddling in the Spring Race.
Hernando County leaders and others attended a valve closing ceremony to mark the closure of the facility, which is located behind the Walmart supercenter on U.S. Highway 19.
The county closed the facility, which had been in operation since 1967, because it ended up sending nitrogen-rich water to the spring.
Nitrogen and other types of nutrient pollution can lead to algae blooms in springs like the Weeki Wachee.
According to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, “Extensive algae growth can result in reduced water clarity and extreme fluctuations in dissolved oxygen, which can stress aquatic organisms.”
Hernando County said water recycled at the Spring Hill site will now be sent to another facility near the airport, where new technology will remove more nitrogen from the reclaimed water before it can be used to irrigate local crops. golf course.
Utilities Director Gordon Onderdonk estimates that closing the Spring Hill facility will remove 46,000 pounds of nitrogen from Weeki Wachee Springs per year.
“The watershed management action plan developed for the Weeki Wachee Spring set a 20-year goal of removing approximately 195,000 pounds of nitrogen per year,” he explained. “So, that’s about … a quarter of just removing the project from here, so that’s a great achievement.”
Closing Spring Hill’s valve isn’t the only solution Hernando County has deployed to improve the spring’s health, according to Onderdonk.
A separate project will convert hundreds of homes not far from the spring from septic tanks to a central sewer system. According to the Weeki Wachee Springs Watershed Management Action Plan, septic tanks are the spring’s largest source of nitrogen pollution.
Hernando County also asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to designate a section of the Weeki Wachee River as the Springs Reserve.
Such a designation would revolutionize what is and is not allowed on the river. If approved, it would aim to discourage tourists from disembarking to swim or walk on river banks, sandbars or the bottom of rivers by prohibiting kayaks, canoes and other boats from leaning and anchoring along nearly all dips of about 5-5 metres. mile-span river.
The area will be enforced by county law enforcement.
For Thomas, these efforts have had their upsides and downsides.
While she appreciates the efforts to remove nitrogen pollution from Weeki Wachee Springs, she believes the Spring Protection Zone will hinder her ability to enjoy natural gemstones.
“Conservation is important,” she said. “I’m 100% for conservation, but we have to be able to enjoy it, otherwise, what’s the point.”
Others, though, argue that protected areas are necessary to keep springs from being loved to death.
As ABC Action News reported last year, rope swings are bending and snapping trees. Some paddlers are stranding their kayaks, canoes and small boats, eroding fragile river banks as a result. Visitors’ feet trample and injure vegetation above and below the water, including eelgrass, a valuable food source for manatees.
According to County Executive Jeff Rogers, the FWC will hold another public comment meeting in February before deciding on the Springs Preserve in Weeki Wachee Springs.
Rogers believes the FWC’s decision is likely to come in May, and he believes the agency will approve the county’s request to establish the Springs Conservation Area.