Springs science investigation

Protection of springs is one of the St. Johns River Water Management District’s highest priorities. In March 2014, the district launched a three‑year investigation into the health of springs to develop an enhanced scientific foundation that will help identify the most effective restoration and protection actions. The $3 million project is an important component of the district’s Springs Protection Initiative.

The district has engaged the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the UF Water Institute to assist with research, experimentation, data collection and analysis. Collaboration across scientific disciplines and areas of expertise will allow the team to perform research and experimentation specifically targeting the uniqueness of spring systems and gather significant ecological data and analyze it from multiple perspectives. The partnership is called the “Collaborative Research Initiative on Sustainability and Protection of Springs,” or CRISPS.

The team’s work includes:

  • Enhancing the scientific foundation for the management of nitrates flowing into the springs
  • Evaluating whether nitrate reduction alone will be sufficient to restore the balance of nature
  • Assessing the influence of other pollutants and stressors

Scientists are examining rainfall and runoff quantity and quality; aquifer storage, flow and spring discharge; nitrate sources, nitrate uptake and nitrate loss in soils and groundwater; spring functions and algae abundance.

Much of the work will take place in the Silver Springs springshed in Marion County, while the Alexander Springs system in central Florida is a secondary site for hands-on study. The scientific understanding gained through the project will be applicable to other Florida springs and their ecosystems.

The interpretation of the data and findings is expected to conclude in mid-2017.

CRISPS focus areas and work groups

The project is organized into two “super groups” and six work groups:

The purpose of the Springshed Super group is to identify and model how and how much water and nutrients flow over and through the landscape and underground to eventually reach the springs.

The Springshed Super group consists of the following three work groups:

  • The surface water hydrology team is developing models enabling scientists to predict how water and nutrients flow across the landscape.
  • The nitrogen biogeochemistry team is examining the major sources of nitrogen from the landscape as it is transferred to groundwater, and what happens to it chemically as it is transported through the soil system.
  • The groundwater hydrology team is developing a groundwater model of the springshed, including springflow details.

The purpose of the Springs Ecosystem Super group is to understand what environmental factors, or drivers, are most strongly affecting the plant communities of the head spring and spring run.

The Springs Ecosystem Super group consists of the following three work groups:

  • The spring system hydrodynamics/hydraulics team will develop a model of the Silver River/Silver Springs system’s water level, water flow and water quality.
  • The spring system physicochemistry team is examining river and spring water quality and how it affects the biology (plants and animals) of the spring.
  • The spring system biology team is looking at ecology of the natural communities of the spring and how the flora and fauna of these communities influence each other.

The two Super groups will work together to monitor, experiment, and model the drivers of nitrate loading to the springs and the drivers of springs ecosystem health. Although each work group is implementing a work plan that is specific to its research objectives, relevant findings from other work groups and super groups will be incorporated into their work. Information sharing among the work groups and between district and UF scientists is an essential aspect of this integrated and collaborative research program.

An aerial photograph of Silver Springs