GUE Success: A Case Study at Wakulla Springs State Park
Wakulla Springs State Park is home to one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, playing host to an abundance of wildlife, including alligators, manatee, turtles, deer, and birds. Archaeological finds at Wakulla Spring, including early stone blades and Clovis spear points, are evidence of humans using the spring an estimated 12,000 years ago. Fossilized remains of mastodon and other prehistoric animals demonstrate that the spring attracted plentiful game for early nomadic people. During much of the year the powerful spring discharges more than a million gallons of air clear ground water each day.
However, in recent years the quality of the spring water began to notably decline. Dark water conditions seem to dominate with water quality analysis indicating rapidly growing Nitrate levels. The Nitrates are a growing problem in many springs around the world as encroaching development invades once pristine environments. Storm water drainage, agricultural runoff and waste disposal encourage contamination and increase the accumulation of dangerous nutrients including Nitrates. In order to combat the complex problems facing Wakulla Springs, GUE engaged a multidisciplinary effort, including a range of government and non-governmental organizations. The wide diversity of partners include Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Geological Survey, Florida State University, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Institute, and H2H associates.
GUE’s Vice President and Science Director was pivotal in the organization, direction and implementation of a broad research project designed to create a comprehensive ground water model while evaluating the complex surface water/ground water interactions. Meanwhile GUE’s Woodville Karst Plain Project is an indispensable partner, providing dozens of expert cave divers and support personnel. These GUE trained divers are responsible for exploring and mapping the vast majority of Wakulla Springs complex cave systems. The divers also support a broad range of biological and hydrological research, placing diverse instruments including flow meters, caves radios and dye tracing apparatus. Meanwhile, GUE public outreach programs were designed to call attention to the imperiled spring conditions. Town hall meetings were at least partly responsible for organizing public sentiment in favor of aggressive spring protection measures.
The GUE team, including hard working WKPP volunteers invested thousands of volunteer hours. These passionate advocates covered tens of thousands of dollars in expenses while successfully documenting a connection between Wakulla Springs and the City of Tallahassee’s wastewater treatment facility. These findings together with the support harnessed through public outreach have convinced the City of Tallahassee to invest 160 million dollars into advanced wastewater treatment. These changes are likely to have a long term and profound impact upon the quality of the surrounding ecosystem.
Ultimately the success in Wakulla Springs was not the result of a large government program. Nor did academics or researchers organize these efforts. Instead it was the sustained energy of passionate advocates and concerned citizens that ultimately made the difference. GUE plans to replicate this model across the globe, leveraging its growing base of satellites organizations in the protection of our planet’s most cherished natural resources.