Thursday, May 8, 2014

See the Light

Mirror-like reflections in the sky make it seem as though we do not have the spring to ourselves. Our picture-perfect twins dance in the sky as intense rays of sun stripe the water. We can literally see the light as individual sun beams paint and illuminate the flooded springs at Ichetucknee State Park. 

Sadly, the governmental decision making is not so clear. The Springs Bill passed the Senate last week but did not even get a hearing in the House (1) - at first, this bill seemed to be the light at the end of the tunnel after far too much neglect under the Scott administration. Over the course of the legislative session, it became more and more "watered down" from $365 million per year to about $30 million total (2), but we have not yet lost hope. We must keep the springs and water issues in the public eye - the health of our springs directly reflects our actions in the springshed just like the springs so perfectly portray our reflections in their watery sky. This is our drinking water and it's worth the fight.

To escape the convoluted world of politics and "Springs Failure" [the heartbreaking title of an editorial in Tuesday's Gainesville Sun (2)], it is refreshing to take a dip at Ichetucknee Springs. The hot summer air has returned, and the once steaming springs feel freezing compared to the 90 degree air temperatures. To escape the heat, we plunged headfirst into the headspring and Blue Hole. I can only dream that every Floridian may get the chance to have this same experience and not only see but feel the inherent importance and magic of the springs. This is the only way to truly "see the light" in terms of understanding why we must change our relationship with and perceptions of water in Florida. I wish that senators and government officials could see the light as clearly as it's visible here... 
Brilliant rays of sunshine illuminate a quiet corner of the Ichetucknee headspring. 
Sunlight reflects off of Val as she rests at the surface of the headspring before diving down to the vent. 
A brief walk through the woods takes you hundreds of miles away to a secluded spring paradise - and a few more steps into the water takes you thousands of miles farther into another world. Light is refracted as it bounces off the bottom of Blue Hole, giving you the impression that the spring itself is producing light. 
Light in the off-limits spring run gives true meaning to "the grass is greener on the other side." Darkness and shadows in Blue Hole make the other side of the fence look like a tempting paradise. 
Fierce streaks of sunlight pierce the flood-stage spring. The water is usually about 2-3 full stairs lower (see staircase in back left corner).
Hovering in the sky - taking in the inexplicable feeling of a hovering in what seems to be thin air. 

The story of springs has many ups and downs - from the establishment of the Florida Springs Task Force in 1999 to the weakening and disappearance of the Springs Bill in 2014. These two photos represent literal up and down shots from the same location ~20 feet down free diving in Blue Hole.

But we will just keep swimming. This summer, we are starting field work mainly in the Silver River under a joint contract between the SJRWMD and UF. This is part of the Collaborative Research Initiative on Sustainability and Protection of Springs (CRISPS) - an interdisciplinary project aimed at further investigating the science behind the decline of the springs and collecting data to better inform management decisions (i.e. studying top-down trophic interactions, food web dynamics, and improving hydrologic models, among many other research projects). More information will be available soon on the SJRWMD webpage.


(1) In the Tampa Bay Times (Monday, May 5, 2014), Craig Pittman explains why it was "doomed from the start" - Springs' aid 'doomed from the start' by House decision, advocate says

(2) "Springs Failure" Editorial by Nathan Crabbe in the Gainesville Sun on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 (Photo on the left: not a fun headline to see when I opened the Gainesville Sun on Tuesday morning)

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