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IHMC speaker: ‘Silver Springs is dying’

Thursday, December 18, 2014 7:29 AM | Deleted user
Ocala Star-Banner 12/17/2014, Page B01

By Andy Fillmore


Environmental scientist and springs researcher Robert Knight told a capacity crowd at the IHMC evening lecture Tuesday that unless current trends are reversed, Silver Springs could be reduced to a dried up algae bowl in as little as 15 years.

“Silver Springs is dying before our eyes. There is a myth that there is an unlimited supply of underground water,” Knight said.

Knight spoke at the latest installment of evening lectures at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a technical research facility with offices in Ocala and Pensacola. The talks, free to the public, cover a wide range of topics and are co-hosted by the College of Central Florida. Knight, 66, grew up in Jacksonville and now lives in Gainesville. He has visited Silver Springs since 1953 and did his doctoral work there. He is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute and president of the Silver Springs Alliance. Some of the historically largest springs in the world are located in Central Florida, Knight indicated.

Knight displayed pictures taken in an area of the Silver River over a number of years that showed a deterioration in the clarity of the water.

He said he’d like to see a revitalization of Silver Springs and have it return as an tourist-drawing “economic engine” for the area.

Groundwater pumping from the aquifer to satisfy needs including residential developments and commercial concerns, especially since 1980, have, “like a checking account balance,” drawn more from the aquifer than rain can replace, Knight contended.

“We are suffering from our own development, our own footprint,” he said.

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'Many springs are down 30 to 40 percent over the last 80 years,' he said. 'They are unhealthy with a weak heart. Imagine losing 40 percent of your blood.'

Knight explained that springs are an 'early warning system' of the health of the aquifer, like water overflowing from the top of a filled bucket. Knight has studied numerous Central Florida springs, including Poe Springs in Alachua County, which he claimed has 'stopped' flowing.

'Most of the springs in Central Florida are down by about 30 percent. The aquifer is dropping about two inches per year in North Florida,' he said.

He cited a drop in output of Silver Springs from about 500 million gallons a day to about 300 million gallons per day in roughly the last 50 years and pointed out that White Springs in North Florida has dried up.

Knight made it clear he feels state government has failed to act even when 'laws have been in place since 1972' to protect water resources. He indicated that business concerns are attracted by 'free water.'

'People just don't know about the issue and the state won't 'fess up. (State government) just keeps kicking the can (the water issue) down the road. They are in denial,' he said.

Knight said that homeowner lawn watering accounts for 'about one-fourth' of the groundwater pulled out of the aquifer and said stopping the lawn and shrub watering would have a measurably positive impact.

People should stand up to homeowner associations that insist on continued lawn watering, he said.

Knight said he served as an expert witness in the request by businessman Frank Stronach for water to operate Adena Springs cattle ranch here.

'I'm very opposed to (allowing) it. The Department of Environmental Protection is still reviewing this, and a decision is due in January,' he said.

Stronach's request stood at 13 million gallons daily for some time but was reduced to 5.3 million gallons daily and may be dropped to 1.5 million gallons daily.

Knight said 'public pressure' caused the initial requests to be lowered.

Knight drew applause during his talk when he said 'Stronach should donate the land back for (a water) recharge (area)' for Silver Springs.

He also drew a strong positive reaction from the crowd when he suggested the Rodman Dam be removed or breached to return a natural balance to the area.

Knight discussed what he termed potentially cancer-causing levels of nitrates present in Marion County water, especially in the western part of the county.

He indicated the nitrate was traceable to fertilizer runoff and '70 million' septic tanks in the county.

He recommended less use of fertilizer, using Florida-friendly plants and avoiding runoff conditions.

Lecture guest Lucia Beale, of Summerneld, in the area for 14 years, said she sese 'more vegetation and less fish' at some locations here, while attendee Richard Arntzen said he has seen public taste change to where they no longer enjoy just a laid-back visit to the springs.

Lecture attendee and former governor Kenneth 'Buddy' MacKay said he 'agrees strongly' that the state government is not informing the public about water protection issues and not enforcing water protection regulations.

'Robert Knight has a lot of courage and idealism. Protection of Silver Springs is a Marion County issue, and if anything brings Marion County together, it should be this,' MacKay said.

In an added touch this month, Ocala Symphony Orchestra violinist Katie McCoy provided some Christmas season music during the reception.


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