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Florida's ailing springs subject of clash over how much water to divert for development

All over Florida, clashes are erupting over how much water can be diverted from the state's springs to keep development going. The latest battleground was Tuesday's meeting of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Despite opposition from more than 30 speakers, the water district's board voted 9-1 to allow the flow of Crystal River and the 70 springs that make up Kings Bay to be cut by up to 11 percent.

The agency's staff believes it can increase the pumping of groundwater to cut the flow by that much without causing "significant damage" to the environment. Of particular concern in Crystal River and Kings Bay: the ecosystem is home to hundreds of manatees that seek refuge in the bay.

A 2016 state law has pushed Swiftmud and the other water districts around the state to set "minimum flows" for Florida's iconic springs before July 1. But each time, springs advocates, environmental activists and neighbors of the springs have contended that the springs are already too impaired to allow any more water to be diverted to development.

During Tuesday's meeting, opponents of Swiftmud's 11 percent proposal talked about how Kings Bay and Crystal River have already seen a steep drop in their flow, and how that has fueled an increase in pollution and toxic algae blooms.