The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral

Florida Springs Institute Director Robert Knight talks about the problems at Florida's springs and what can be done to save them

July 27, 2022 Oscar Corral
Florida Springs Institute Director Robert Knight talks about the problems at Florida's springs and what can be done to save them
The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral
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The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral
Florida Springs Institute Director Robert Knight talks about the problems at Florida's springs and what can be done to save them
Jul 27, 2022
Oscar Corral

Robert "Bob" Knight is the director of the Florida Springs Institute. He has also authored numerous books about the springs, their unique nature and how they are being degraded in Florida. In this episode, he talks about how Florida's system of granting permits to pump water is enabling corporations and business interests to pump water for almost nothing. This practically free use of water is draining the aquifer the the springs' water comes from. If things don't change, Bob feels the springs may be destroyed.

Show Notes Transcript

Robert "Bob" Knight is the director of the Florida Springs Institute. He has also authored numerous books about the springs, their unique nature and how they are being degraded in Florida. In this episode, he talks about how Florida's system of granting permits to pump water is enabling corporations and business interests to pump water for almost nothing. This practically free use of water is draining the aquifer the the springs' water comes from. If things don't change, Bob feels the springs may be destroyed.

00:00:00:02 - 00:00:20:08
Unknown
Hello everybody, I'm your host Oscar Corral. welcome to another episode of The Nature of Florida podcast. Today, I want to welcome Dr. Robert Knight. Bob Knight. Bob is the founder and director of the Howard Theorem, Florida Springs Institute. He's an environmental scientist and systems ecologist with close to 50 years of professional experience in aquatic ecosystems, including springs and wetlands.

00:00:21:03 - 00:00:38:21
Unknown
He is a fierce advocate for Florida's springs and one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on how they work and the problems they are facing. He is the author of numerous books, including Death by a Thousand Cuts and My Favorite Silence Springs Moving from Tragedy to Hope, which lays out the existential threats the springs are

00:00:38:21 - 00:00:52:14
Unknown
facing in Florida and the possible ways to save them. That book also helped inspire me to make my documentary, The Fellowship of the Springs, which is now available to rent on Amazon Prime. Today I'm looking forward to talking about all things springs with him.

00:00:52:14 - 00:01:08:18
Unknown
Thanks for joining me, Bob. Thank you, Oscar, for inviting me. So, Bob, tell me a little bit about about the Springs and what's going on with them right now in Florida and start wherever you'd like in terms of how they're looking and what you see going forward.

00:01:10:02 - 00:01:35:14
Unknown
Well, of course the springs are changing. We have a lot of evidence of that, but it's nice to reflect back to what they were when 50 years ago, when we first saw them. When I first saw them, they were consistently crystalline, clear, blue, full of green plants, submerged aquatic plants and fish and wildlife that were inhabiting those

00:01:35:14 - 00:02:02:05
Unknown
highly productive systems. When Dr. Howard Odum studied springs in the 1950s, which is more than 70 years ago now, he documented that in a very detailed study in terms of the whole energy flow through springs, the complexity of the ecosystems that they had developed, how they were finely tuned to maximize the utilization of solar energy and resulted

00:02:02:05 - 00:02:21:08
Unknown
in like the highest productivity of almost any ecosystem in Florida, just because there were like the most highly tuned Lamborghini that you could have. And since then, they've been changing. I got to study Silver Springs with Dr. Odum in the 1970s for my doctoral work.

00:02:22:05 - 00:02:42:09
Unknown
There were some changes already very evident there with the closing of the Rodman Dam, the fish populations, the migration route for fish had been cut off and the fish populations had seriously declined. At silver, the productivity was starting to go down and we got to document that more.

00:02:42:10 - 00:02:58:20
Unknown
25 years later, in 2000, four and five, when we noted that the productivity of Silver Springs was down over 20%, the flows were down over 20%, and the fish were down over 90% at that time. And that's just an echo of what's out there.

00:02:59:13 - 00:03:17:15
Unknown
I've been studying additional springs since the early 2000s. So for the last 20 years, that's all I've been doing. And I've found that these problems are really across the board for Florida's thousand plus springs. It's hard to find a healthy spring now.

00:03:18:06 - 00:03:30:00
Unknown
You mentioned that you did some work in Florida Springs in Silver Springs almost 50 years ago. Tell me about that first experience and correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Silver Springs the largest spring in the world back then?

00:03:31:13 - 00:03:47:06
Unknown
It was in terms of long term average measured flow. Silver Springs has flow measurements actually going back to the late 1800s, and that indicated the average flow was over half a billion gallons every day, 500 million, about 520 million gallons a day.

00:03:47:14 - 00:04:04:10
Unknown
And that was true up until the 1970s and eighties when I was studying Silver Springs. For the first time in the last three decades, the flow has gone down between 30 and 40%. The flow and and flow is the lifeblood of the springs.

00:04:04:10 - 00:04:22:23
Unknown
So the bigger the flow, the higher the flow, the more consistent it is, the healthier spring is, and the more productive it is. But Silver Springs is no longer has the highest flow of any spring. In Florida, it's second to Rainbow's Springs and rainbows gone down, too, but not nearly as fast as silver.

00:04:23:21 - 00:04:39:18
Unknown
And tell me about that that early encounter with the Springs in Florida. Obviously, something clicked inside of you that made you never forget. But do you remember your first encounter with a Florida spring? Well, I went to Silver as a young child in 1953.

00:04:40:01 - 00:04:51:04
Unknown
My grandparents took me to Silver Spring. So that was the first time in my short life I'd ever seen a spring. And it was amazing. You know, Silver Springs was attracting over a million visitors a year back then.

00:04:51:15 - 00:05:10:21
Unknown
And at the time, Dr. was doing a study at the time I first saw it. It was the biggest tourist attraction in Florida before Disney World. So it was you know, it's just amazing. But I had no scientific point of reference to compare it to when I went back in the seventies.

00:05:11:07 - 00:05:26:11
Unknown
And Dr. Odom invited me to study Silver Springs 25 years after he had studied it for the first time. Of course, I was elated with that. There couldn't be a better laboratory for an aquatic ecologist in the world, in Silver Springs.

00:05:26:12 - 00:05:42:10
Unknown
And and there was so much known about it that I went back and duplicated some of the measurements that Dr. Odom had done. At the same time, I remeasured the fish populations. I recounted the fish because he was very interested in that change.

00:05:42:11 - 00:06:02:01
Unknown
He had observed already the declining fish populations since 1968 when the Rodman Dam was built and closed. And so he wanted me to study that as well. And I, I could not believe how similar Silver Springs was to a living organism.

00:06:02:01 - 00:06:20:03
Unknown
It was it was just dynamic. It was alive. It was breathing in and out every day. You could measure the oxygen changes, just like in a person. They look just like a cardiogram in a person. The heartbeat of Silver Springs is fired every day by the sun.

00:06:20:03 - 00:06:41:08
Unknown
Coming up, the spring awakens it plants become productive, they produce food. And then at night that fires and everything is is breathing that oxygen and waiting for the next day when the lights come back on. And I you know, I measured that I had a cloud over the sun and I could instantly see the reduction and productivity

00:06:41:08 - 00:06:59:18
Unknown
of the ecosystem by measuring its oxygen changes. It was just it was unbelievable. And I was surrounded by that, by alligators, by fish, by snails, by birds the whole time I was working out there. But put into perspective for me the global significance of these springs.

00:07:00:00 - 00:07:14:02
Unknown
I think a lot of people in Florida and in north Florida have the idea that these are local swimming holes, which they are, and they're very popular in their respective communities. But put, put, put in perspective for me, the global significance of these springs and how unique they are.

00:07:15:03 - 00:07:34:20
Unknown
Well, I think that springs occur worldwide. They clearly do. The kind of springs we have are artesian and they're basically pressurized springs because there's a recharge zone that is then and then there's a confining layer that keeps that water under pressure before it boils out of the spring.

00:07:35:18 - 00:07:55:17
Unknown
But those kinds of springs occur around the world. It's just that we have such a high number of them and such high rainfall in Florida that recharge is the first continuously that our spring flows add up to. And Florida, about ten and a half billion gallons a day was the total combined spring flow in Florida pre-development.

00:07:56:11 - 00:08:14:05
Unknown
So that's a very large quantity of water. There are other springs in the world that flow very high rates, but for short periods of time. And but then again, there's many other. Large and medium sized springs around the world too, that I keep hearing about more from people.

00:08:14:16 - 00:08:35:20
Unknown
So my claim that we have the most springs and largest springs in the world is is based on the literature and not on personal experience. I haven't seen all the springs, but we have a very significant accumulation of springs in North Florida plus plus Florida, because of its location geographically, has a certain year round temperature that makes

00:08:35:20 - 00:08:48:18
Unknown
the springs swimmable. In many places you go to springs and there are too cold to swim in there, you know, 50 degrees, 60 degrees. I mean, they're very cold. Florida has a more accessible spring network, I think, than a lot of places.

00:08:48:18 - 00:09:04:13
Unknown
And plus, there's so many of them. It's not just one or two springs in the middle of of an area. It's it's a whole region of of a state that is, you know, dominated and dotted by these made these little springs, these big springs that people can go and enjoy.

00:09:04:13 - 00:09:19:22
Unknown
I think I think people are allowed to swim in most springs in Florida that are, you know, that are at least not privately owned except maybe silver. But people have access and they connect with these places. How important is it for people to connect with these places and for for awareness about them?

00:09:21:01 - 00:09:40:13
Unknown
Well, I think it's absolutely essential that people enjoy the springs. They know about the springs and then act in accordance with the love that you have for springs once you've gotten to know them. You know, our springs are isolated in the state to some extent.

00:09:40:16 - 00:10:02:03
Unknown
The vast majority of them are north of Interstate four. So basically a line from Tampa to Orlando divides the Springs region from the rest of the state. But that's a very large region. About about half the population of Florida is in that part of the state and and, you know, drank the same water that the springs drink

00:10:02:07 - 00:10:23:13
Unknown
. The Florida rock for the actual area that recharges our springs is 27 million acres, more than half of the state. And it's extremely important that those springs are spread out because they are accessible. Anybody from Orlando North can find a spring within, you know, less than an hour drive.

00:10:23:13 - 00:10:38:24
Unknown
And they do. We don't have this many visitors from Miami where you are, as we should. But that's a good thing so far for our springs, right? Because they can only they can only withstand so many people loving them.

00:10:38:24 - 00:11:00:16
Unknown
And we say that it's very possible to love them to death and we want to avoid that. I think the springs are to North Florida, just as the Everglades are to South Florida. They're not only. Beautiful and unique, but they're also an important part of our economy and our ecosystem in that they are they are the same

00:11:00:16 - 00:11:12:19
Unknown
water that we drink, just like the water that flows through the Everglades, recharge the Biscayne Aquifer. The water that flows out of the springs is the water that's that's in the Florida aquifer, which provides drinking water for North Florida.

00:11:13:00 - 00:11:25:17
Unknown
And that's another thing a lot of people up there don't necessarily realize is that the water that they swim in, in those springs is the same exact water that they're drinking when they pour themselves a cup in most places in north of north of Lake Okeechobee.

00:11:26:16 - 00:11:45:01
Unknown
Yeah, that's a really important concept to try to get through people's heads, and I don't think anybody appreciates that enough. But every drop of water that we use up here other than rainfall, but all our human use has really come from the Florida, not for the same aquifer that feeds the springs.

00:11:45:15 - 00:12:01:14
Unknown
And our use of that water is reducing the amount of water that comes out of the springs. And so not only are the springs a good indicator of the health of our drinking water, but they're they're a good indicator of how much water that we're using ourselves.

00:12:01:14 - 00:12:21:20
Unknown
And, you know, they're the proverbial canary in the coal mine in terms of the harm we're doing to the amount of water and the quantity quality of that water. But as I say, you know, every glass of water that I drink up here and, you know, we used to wash your dishes and brush your teeth is one

00:12:21:20 - 00:12:38:09
Unknown
less glass of water for the fish to drink in the springs. And that's a very important concept that is hard for people to wrap their heads around what's happening at the Springs right now, Bob, in terms of the harm that there are that they're facing and and the consequences of it.

00:12:39:20 - 00:12:55:01
Unknown
Well, as I indicated, the flow is a very important part of the lifeblood of the spring. It is the lifeblood of the spring. And just just like a human needs, a certain amount of water a day, which about a gallon a day for a human is what's needed to maintain life.

00:12:56:00 - 00:13:09:22
Unknown
A spring needs water as well, and the less water it has, the less healthy it is in terms of its biology. And springs are not dead systems that are full of biological, you know, components, both plants and animals.

00:13:10:14 - 00:13:29:10
Unknown
And that water is the most important part of it. So what's happening is that we are currently on average using about a third of the recharge of the Florida Roquefort for our own uses. And that's that was all springs flow in the past.

00:13:30:06 - 00:13:43:08
Unknown
So $0.02 pre-development times, we've lost about a third of the average flow of all our springs. And that that's a lot of water. It's about 3 billion gallons a day in Florida. So it's a lot of water that we're using.

00:13:43:08 - 00:14:02:11
Unknown
It's a lot of water that a springs don't have anymore. And that is, of course, dried up some of the smaller springs and even some intermediate sized springs that happen to be near points of high pumping. And it's but it's reducing and harming all the springs, even the biggest ones like Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs.

00:14:02:24 - 00:14:21:05
Unknown
And it's taught me and the Santa Fe River Springs and Wakulla Springs, all of these springs are being impacted by reduced flows. And what's what's causing all this pumping? What what is that pumping being used for? Is it because of the spread of development throughout North Florida or is it other industries that are pumping?

00:14:21:12 - 00:14:47:12
Unknown
Where is this water going? Yeah, it's it's important to know that it's it's going for all like I said, all uses 98, 99% of the all human water users in North Florida are from the aquifer. And so the water is going to obviously urban development, it's going to suburban development and rural development through wells, individual wells and

00:14:48:17 - 00:15:15:00
Unknown
personal supply wells while the public supply wells are the biggest ones. And then it's going to agriculture and to commercial uses. So agriculture probably supplies about more than half of the total use. Agriculture is the second largest component, almost half, and then the remainder is commercial and then personal supply for individual wells.

00:15:15:14 - 00:15:35:05
Unknown
There are a total of I've estimated over 900,000 wells in the Florida NOC for and just in Florida, of course, there's that many tens of thousands more in Georgia, too, in the same aquifer that feeds our springs. But there's over 900,000 straws in the Slurpee, is the way I put it.

00:15:35:11 - 00:15:50:07
Unknown
We're all sucking water from the same Slurpee Cup. It's the Florida Roquefort. It's all connected. And now, of course, the springs are getting their water from the same Slurpee Cup, too. And we're we're leaving less and less water for the springs by doing that.

00:15:50:19 - 00:16:11:23
Unknown
How did how did we get here, Bob? What happened? Well, obviously we've grown from a population of a million about, I think in the 1950s for something like 10 to 22 million now. So we got there by Florida being with the advent of air conditioning, Florida became livable, you know, and the only way to live here before

00:16:11:23 - 00:16:25:08
Unknown
that was you could jump in the springs in the summertime because it was just too darn hot to live in Florida during the summer. But with air conditioning, Florida's become, you know, the retirement Mecca of the eastern United States.

00:16:25:08 - 00:16:44:09
Unknown
And so we got in there partly by population growth, but it's not it's not the population that is the real problem. It's the fact that a very small portion of the population. And really, we're talking about about 30,000 individuals.

00:16:44:17 - 00:17:03:16
Unknown
If you consider a corporation, a person, about 30,000 individuals top up well over 50% of the water and maybe as high as 80 or 90% of the water from the aquifer. And that's because those are the big users that have permits that allow them to extract more than 100,000 gallons a day.

00:17:04:05 - 00:17:16:16
Unknown
So that's how we got here. Who grants these permits? Where do you where do they go get permits from? Well, we have water management districts in Florida. There are five of them. Four of them are in the Springs region.

00:17:16:24 - 00:17:38:18
Unknown
So that's the St John's River Water Management District, the Suwannee Water Management District, the Northwest Florida Water Management District, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The South Florida Water Management District, which is where Miami is, is not giving permits that come out of this potable part of the Florida and offer their permits down there out of

00:17:38:18 - 00:18:03:17
Unknown
the Biscayne for another southern aquifers. So the water management districts issue these permits for a very small permit fee. The water's free. And so it's somebody that wants to get a permit for a million gallons a day for irrigating their crops like watermelons or corn, just has to go and fill out an application and then show that

00:18:03:17 - 00:18:23:04
Unknown
they that's a reasonable use of the water and the district gives them a permit and those have added up to the permitted amount. The last time I told them all up in 2010, the permanent amount was four and a half billion gallons a day in those four water districts.

00:18:23:12 - 00:18:39:18
Unknown
That's half of the total spring flow. It's half of the total recharge of the aquifer. It sounds to me like there's a complete free for all for water in Florida. There's very little checks and balances. It seems like people anybody who says they have a good reason to pump water can go out and get a permit for

00:18:39:18 - 00:18:55:01
Unknown
100 bucks and pump, you know, half a million gallons a day or a million gallons a day from the aquifer. Is that more or less the way things are working right now? Yeah, it is. There is the way in fact, it's even worse than that, because anybody that wants to put a well in on their personal property

00:18:55:01 - 00:19:15:20
Unknown
can do it legally, which is crazy. And as long as they don't pump up to 100,000 gallons a day, they can put a well or multiple wells on their property. If I calculated this recently, if everybody in Florida did that, we would be using 100 times more water than is in the hole for an and for all

00:19:15:20 - 00:19:37:15
Unknown
the springs would be dry. And so everybody has a fair chance right now to go out and get I put a well in and it's the the classic tragedy of the commons that we allow that we've got a common which is the Florida the water and the Florida not for it's finite it's only about ten and a

00:19:37:16 - 00:19:54:02
Unknown
half billion gallons a day in coming in into the Florida in Florida. But only about eight and a half billion of that is from local recharge. The rest comes from Georgia. And and then we give permits out as if there is no tomorrow and there is a tomorrow.

00:19:54:15 - 00:20:12:20
Unknown
So when you have that many permits out, over about 30,000 permits, over 100,000 gallons a day, not counting all the smaller wells. It's and then you have a dry year when there's no recharge for when it's so dry that you basically get no recharge and everybody's pumping.

00:20:13:03 - 00:20:26:06
Unknown
It's catastrophic. That's what we see. Even the biggest springs go dry. We saw it in 2012. We saw silver go down to one fifth of its average flow. Wow. One fifth of one fish flow. A shadow of what it was.

00:20:26:08 - 00:20:41:20
Unknown
Shadow it. And it turned green when when it did that. And then it's at that time, I know some people were predicting that Silver is going to stop flowing at some time in this generation, which is imagine unimaginable that that would happen.

00:20:42:00 - 00:20:56:16
Unknown
So the largest what was once the largest spring on earth, in your estimation, has the potential to stop flowing? It certainly was. Oh, boy. This spring has the potential to stop. Flowing. All you have to do is put a well in that withdraws enough water.

00:20:56:16 - 00:21:16:23
Unknown
And here we've got, like I said, over 900,000 wells and 30,000 big wells. They're like 8 to 10 inches or more that it's not hard to dry up the spring. It's actually it's good that that more people don't know about this this ability to put a well and that should be against the law.

00:21:16:23 - 00:21:32:14
Unknown
And we should be charging people for that water so that they don't use it wastefully. It seems like these water management districts are engaged in just reckless. Disregard for what's happening at the Springs in terms of their permitting is there.

00:21:33:02 - 00:21:49:09
Unknown
I know that there are scientists there that are competent, but is there any sort of of self-reflection at these districts and these agencies to understand that the springs are in decline right now and that they are the reason that one of the reasons they're in decline is because of all these permits and all this pumping.

00:21:49:11 - 00:22:07:14
Unknown
Is there any sort of awareness there or what's happening at these agencies? Well, they do have a lot of good scientists, a lot of smart scientists they have. They're all under political control of the reigning administration to. And that influences not the science so much.

00:22:07:19 - 00:22:26:04
Unknown
It's to some extent influences the science, but it influences the policies that they're following. They don't they don't want to deny permits to organizations that have clout politically. And and so if they want to try to make it appear like it's even to everybody, they'll give permits out to anybody.

00:22:26:04 - 00:22:44:07
Unknown
It doesn't have to be somebody that's got a lot of lobbyists. But in fact, what the scientists have to do is either ignore the fact that the flows are declining or hide behind models that they use for justifying those flow declines.

00:22:45:00 - 00:23:05:05
Unknown
For example, the flow decline at Rainbow Springs is that water management district acknowledges its 20% decline, but they say based on their model, that only one and a half percent, less than 2% of that decline is due to pumping and the rest is due to rainfall without any proof of that at all.

00:23:06:01 - 00:23:29:16
Unknown
So it's it's like everybody is hiding behind the fig leaf. And the fig leaf is the model that that allows them to ignore the actual data. And the same thing is true for silver. I mean, I saw the staff at Silver ready to stop all permit, all new permits under a previous executive director.

00:23:30:00 - 00:23:48:03
Unknown
That executive director was fired and a new one was put in his place and Silver started issuing permits again. So it's it's a political there's a lot of political science. And with the actual science, these water management districts are run by boards of directors.

00:23:48:14 - 00:24:00:12
Unknown
And each one has a handful of boards of directors of directors. I think it ranges from 9 to 13 or 15 and all of them. And those are the ones who make the decision on whether to grant a permit or not.

00:24:01:10 - 00:24:21:21
Unknown
And all of those directors on these boards of directors are appointed by the governor of Florida. Correct? Yes, that's correct. So all of these are government governor appointees. So they they basically are allowing permitting almost unrestricted in Florida for a very modest fee.

00:24:22:03 - 00:24:38:21
Unknown
Let's let's just give an example, Bob. I think for my documentary, I remember reading that there's a mining company, Mosaic, that I think has permission to pump up to 3/1 magnitude springs worth of water out of the ground every day.

00:24:39:08 - 00:24:56:19
Unknown
And for those permits they paid, I think it was $3,500, something like that. The price of a used motorcycle and for the price of a used motorcycle, they have access to three and a three up to three. First magnitude springs worth of water every day from the floor to an aquifer.

00:24:57:13 - 00:25:13:24
Unknown
Now that that to me seems like there's a disconnect there between the value of what they're actually using and the price that they're paying for it. Because and it's not just Mosaic. Mosaic is one of many, many different corporations that has permission to pump water.

00:25:13:24 - 00:25:26:01
Unknown
But tell me about that. Do you feel like water is priced correctly in Florida? Do you feel like the value of water is is not really taken into account in these permits and what can be done about it?

00:25:27:07 - 00:25:45:10
Unknown
Yeah, I'm sure that it's not valued enough by our state that the water in the Florida dock for in fact all waters in the state are belong to the public. They are a public resource. Unlike Western states where water can be owned by individuals, none of the water is owned by individuals in Florida.

00:25:46:10 - 00:26:00:12
Unknown
But in fact, these corporations get a permit and they can sell that water as bottled water companies do. They can sell it for $2 a gallon, and yet they're obtaining it for less than a dollar, a thousand gallons.

00:26:00:17 - 00:26:20:14
Unknown
So there's enormous profit to be made. And then there uses of water of this groundwater that are just foolish. I mean, permits were let for a very large groundwater pumping for growing grass, for grass fed beef and rain does that just fine in Florida.

00:26:20:22 - 00:26:40:03
Unknown
But they wanted to put crowd more cows on these pieces of land up here in north Florida. And so they got permits to do that that no, that's ridiculous. The water has value. In fact, if you really consider it, water is a lot more valuable gold because you can't eat or drink gold, but you can drink water

00:26:40:03 - 00:26:57:23
Unknown
and you'll wish you had water when you don't have any. And there's nothing we can do about that. And that is we should put a we should require all groundwater extractions to be monitored. In other words, we need to have knowledge of how much groundwater we're actually using.

00:26:57:23 - 00:27:10:21
Unknown
It's all estimated now very little is actually monitored. That's right. And then we need to put a limit on how much can be extracted that doesn't kill the springs. And that's a lot less than what we're extracting right now.

00:27:10:21 - 00:27:31:08
Unknown
We need to cut way back on how much groundwater we're extracting if we want to have a healthy environment. And thirdly, we should put a price for all extractions so that nobody does wasteful things. In other words, there, if you're going to extract water, use it for the highest use, which is really drinking water for humans, but

00:27:31:08 - 00:27:53:07
Unknown
not for growing lawns and, you know, things like that where you can just use rain as an alternative. Salt water does need to be valued more. It is very valuable and we'll find that out here. And they already are around the coastal areas where they're having to they've got so much groundwater, solar intrusion that they're having to

00:27:53:17 - 00:28:08:09
Unknown
desalinate water and. We've we've changed that enormously in our lifetime. It seems like Florida is squandering its water for the gain and the profit of a handful of corporations that make up really a small part of our economy.

00:28:08:20 - 00:28:25:21
Unknown
And it doesn't seem to be letting up. And I think it's terrible economic policy, especially when you consider what's going to happen in the future with climate change, with, you know, freshwater becoming more limited out west where people are running out of water in their reservoirs in California and Arizona and Colorado.

00:28:26:17 - 00:28:39:07
Unknown
You know, water is becoming more and more precious. And here we are in Florida, kind of just giving it away to the you know, to the lowest bidder. There's not even a bitter we're just giving it away to whoever has 100 bucks in their pocket, which is which is anybody.

00:28:39:20 - 00:28:54:09
Unknown
And and so it seems like there's a disconnect, a value there. But that's not the only problem plaguing the Springs. Right, Bob? There's also a nutrient and pollution problem. Yeah. As if it's not bad enough with the just the water quantity issue.

00:28:54:09 - 00:29:11:06
Unknown
The water quality issue is lethal because when you have no water in a spring, the spring is absolutely a dead sinkhole is all it is. So that's that's pretty bad by itself. But in addition to that, the springs are showing us just how much we've polluted our drinking water.

00:29:11:15 - 00:29:27:13
Unknown
It's been the policy of the state for over two decades now to direct wastewater discharges of all types to the aquifer and not to surface waters, because it was recognized that our surface waters were a very important part of our economy in Florida.

00:29:27:13 - 00:29:48:16
Unknown
So polluting our lakes and rivers and Everglades and everything became very unpopular as people became aware of those issues. So the state, in their wisdom, decided to divert all this wastewater or a lot of them to the groundwater, just like, you know, we discharge raw wastewater off into the Atlantic Ocean and some places down in their part

00:29:48:16 - 00:30:10:16
Unknown
of the state. We discharge our wastewater to the groundwater here. And between that and between the amount of fertilizer, about £300 million of nitrogen in fertilizer a year is applied to the land in the Springs region. About £40 million of that is ending up in our aquifer in our springs every year.

00:30:11:16 - 00:30:26:04
Unknown
And that what does that what what does that cause? What happens there? Well, it causes the springs to have very high nitrogen concentrations, in many cases above safe levels and all in all cases above the level that, say, for the springs.

00:30:26:04 - 00:30:46:06
Unknown
The springs standard for nitrate is one third of a one part per million .35 parts per million. And all of our springs average over one part per million. So. Wow. So what you're telling me is that the state itself, the state of Florida's government, has set legal limits for how much?

00:30:47:06 - 00:30:59:12
Unknown
Let's call it what it is. Pollution. Nitrogen pollution could be in these springs. They've set a limit. And yet many of these springs, most of them have pollution levels that are way above those limits. And what is the state doing about it?

00:31:00:15 - 00:31:14:06
Unknown
Well, they have a plan. They have a plan called the Basic Management Action Plan, too. And in fact, they've got a bunch of them now, 20 of them for Springs. But the plans don't take care of the problem.

00:31:14:06 - 00:31:28:11
Unknown
That's it's been shown conclusively that the plans won't achieve the goals. They're not getting better. The in general, the nitrate levels are still going up. And all this brings about 80% of the springs are above the standard. In the standard.

00:31:28:21 - 00:31:46:03
Unknown
Didn't come around because Florida wanted it is because the Federal Clean Water Act required that there be a numeric standard for these nutrients in our and our surface waters, including the Everglades, including their springs. And so the state establishes that standard based on science.

00:31:46:13 - 00:32:01:24
Unknown
And it turns out that there are almost no springs. There's no major springs that are achieving that standard. And in most cases, the nitrogen levels are still rising. So, you know, do we care about the little bugs in the springs?

00:32:02:00 - 00:32:19:03
Unknown
Well, you know, theoretically we do. That's why our laws say that we're supposed to. But we should also care about our own drinking water. Our drinking water here in north Florida is above one part per million, and that's 20 times higher than the natural nitrogen level.

00:32:19:03 - 00:32:37:13
Unknown
And drinking water. Oh, boy. The natural levels below 0.05. And yet we've got over one part per million and some of our towns up here have the highest to a lot of springs water. Almost all the springs bottled water is above one and some of it's over two parts per million.

00:32:37:23 - 00:32:54:19
Unknown
And we know that concentrations around two and a half million are implicated with increased risk of cancer in humans. Nitrate is not only harmful for springs, but it can cause cancer in humans as well. It seems like. Like the government is.

00:32:55:24 - 00:33:12:02
Unknown
Employing a smoke and mirrors tactic to pay lip service to people who care about the springs. In other words, the government is saying, Oh yes, well, we've got the problem under control. We've got these basin management action plans and these plans are going to help bring the springs back to their natural health and all.

00:33:12:07 - 00:33:25:18
Unknown
It's all under control. However, the reality and the science is showing that these plans, in effect in many cases, are not effective. They don't they don't have the components in place or the enforcement in place to actually help the springs.

00:33:26:03 - 00:33:49:07
Unknown
So so the government must recognize that people care about the springs and they're telling people that they're going to protect the springs. But in reality, that's not what's happening. What's happening is that the government continues to, through these water management districts, grant permits to a handful of corporations that and agricultural companies that can pump as much water

00:33:49:07 - 00:34:08:10
Unknown
as they want, practically for almost no cost to them. And and then make all the profits and and we're left holding the bag environmentally and with the consequences. It seems daunting as a problem. But but one of the things I like the most about your about your book is it says, Moving from tragedy to Hope.

00:34:08:10 - 00:34:23:11
Unknown
And I'm talking about Silenced Springs, Moving from tragedy to hope. Is there hope for the Springs, Bob? What do you think? It's hard to be optimistic most days, but of course, there's hope. The springs can recover. They will recover.

00:34:24:05 - 00:34:41:08
Unknown
When we cut back on our groundwater pumping, as long as the rainfall continues and actually we're seeing higher rainfalls the last few years, it may be a response to the global warming, the climate change that's occurring. So the springs are still alive.

00:34:41:09 - 00:34:59:20
Unknown
Many of them are. They're all impaired to some extent. And so hope is not lost, but hope is distant. You know, I don't expect to see help in my lifetime. I don't expect to see springs becoming robust and healthy again.

00:35:00:03 - 00:35:22:04
Unknown
But that certainly can happen. It really it just takes a change at the executive level in Florida to and in the legislature and the governor to actually do things that actually help the future of the springs, which is the same thing as helping the public protect their water supply.

00:35:23:00 - 00:35:41:08
Unknown
If that if that miracle happens, then we'll start seeing springs recovering very rapidly. But it's going to take it. The corporations don't want it because a lot of corporations make money off of free water and the ability to pollute without consequences.

00:35:42:15 - 00:35:57:18
Unknown
The Florida Springs Institute, which you are the director of, is fighting a kind of a David and Goliath battle to protect the springs. They are the underdogs. And they. But they. But yet they do incredible work. The Florida Springs Institute.

00:35:57:18 - 00:36:18:04
Unknown
I know that you produce a lot of independent science, which guides your your policy recommendations in many cases. And you do a lot of advocacy work for the Springs. How do you how do you do it, Bob? I mean, where does the funding come from and how do you what would you ask people to do to help

00:36:20:16 - 00:36:41:17
Unknown
? Well, I would ask people to love their environment, love their springs, and then try to if they can provide financial support to the organizations that are doing this. I really think that the nonprofits in the state of Florida, including the environmental nonprofits, are the last bastion for protecting the future of Florida.

00:36:42:04 - 00:37:00:13
Unknown
And we're just one of many. There are dozens of springs advocacy groups, including including especially the Forest Springs Council, but there are advocacy groups for individual springs all over North Florida and all of them and none of them have financial resources.

00:37:00:13 - 00:37:16:19
Unknown
You know, they're basically based on all our all our input is from private donations and grants, and we don't get any money from the state. And really, none of these organizations gets money from the state. Many of them don't have any paid employees.

00:37:17:13 - 00:37:34:23
Unknown
We have several paid employees, but I volunteer my own time because that's what I want to do to make a difference. And but we certainly I think people need to decide if they want to have a healthy environment.

00:37:34:24 - 00:37:49:08
Unknown
The future really decide who's doing the work to get us there. And I think you'll find a lot of nonprofits are very deserving for help. There's there's a lot of people who reach out to me because I have this podcast called The Nature of Florida.

00:37:49:09 - 00:38:04:02
Unknown
They want to know how they can get involved. How do I get involved that I care about my environment, I care about my beaches, my springs, my rivers, my forests. How can I get involved? What can I do to become part of the the group of people that's advocating and defending these places?

00:38:04:15 - 00:38:23:05
Unknown
And my recommendation to them is to join organizations to become part of organizations like the Florida Springs Institute that are out there in the trenches fighting this battle every day. And I think it's important to support organizations like this because, like you said, it's not a government organization.

00:38:23:05 - 00:38:35:07
Unknown
And we know the government in this case is part of the problem. And so I think that having independent organizations that are funded by people who care have a big role to play in the future of the Springs.

00:38:35:18 - 00:38:55:08
Unknown
And and I think that you you have an incredible role to play, Bob, and everybody that you work with, you've put together a strong organization. They're filled with really, really compassionate and intelligent and hardworking scientists and advocates. And I think that because of organizations like this, I have hope that the springs are going to have a future

00:38:55:16 - 00:39:08:13
Unknown
. And and I know you've done a great job out there. So if anybody's listening and they're wondering how they can get involved, well, it starts the Florida Springs Institute for the Springs and and other organizations in your own communities that are also fighting these important battles.

00:39:09:15 - 00:39:21:05
Unknown
Bob, on on a final note, what do you what do you foresee in the future? You said that you may have hope for the future. What do you think? If you could wave a magic wand and make things happen, what would you what would you do in the future?

00:39:22:15 - 00:39:38:06
Unknown
Well, I think I think people don't wake up to problems until they're presented with them in a place where they can see them. So the people that are going to springs, if they can recognize the difference between the springs they see now, which are still beautiful.

00:39:38:06 - 00:40:00:15
Unknown
I mean, the water still clear in most cases. But realize that that's changed by looking at the historical accounts of what the springs were like. We can have all that back. So the hope is that people will realize that the things that most closely affect them are a lot of them have to do with the environment.

00:40:00:16 - 00:40:12:12
Unknown
And if people will vote for water, I'd say that's the most important thing they can do is vote for water and not be fooled or tricked by a smoke and mirrors because there's a lot of that out there with politicians.

00:40:13:10 - 00:40:28:09
Unknown
They're there. They'd like you to think that their springs advocates, they are definitely throwing money in springs too, which is our taxpayers money, but we're not seeing benefits from it in proportion to the amount of money being spent.

00:40:28:09 - 00:40:47:07
Unknown
So those for water really pay attention to what you're voting for and make sure it's something that really affects you personally. And I can't imagine that anything it's actually more than water. Well, on that note, Bob, I just want to thank you for for joining me again and for giving me a refresher course on the springs and

00:40:47:08 - 00:41:05:09
Unknown
what's happening out there. And and again, if anybody wants to know more about the springs, you can pick up one of one of Bob's books, incredible books that he's written about the springs. Everything you want to know is in there and and join the Springs Institute and go to field school and do the do the, the, the

00:41:05:10 - 00:41:16:06
Unknown
education credits that they have. It's just a great organization. So. Bob, on that note, thank you for joining me and I hope to see you soon, maybe out of the Florida spring soon. Thank you, Oscar. You take care.

00:41:16:10 - 00:41:17:04
Unknown
All right. Thanks.