The Wekiva ecosystem is one of Florida’s most environmentally and economically valuable natural areas. Formed by over 36 known springs, the 42 mile long Wekiva River system includes the Wekiva, Rock Springs Run, the Blackwater Creek, and the Little Wekiva River. It is a major tributary of the St. Johns River.
The 300,000 acre Wekiva River Basin is one of the most diverse animal and plant communities in Florida. Several state and federally listed species live within the Wekiva River Basin including Florida Black Bears, Wood Storks, and Bald Eagles. The Basin also comprises the southern end of one of Florida’s major wildlife corridors connecting the Ocala National Forest to the Wekiva River.
Due to its ecological and economic significance, the Wekiva River has extensive legal protections. It is designated as an Outstanding Florida Waterway, both a state and federal Wild and Scenic River, and is protected by two major pieces of state legislation. Some 110 square miles in the basin are protected in public ownership as parks, preserves and state forests.
Tragically, the Wekiva River and the springs which feed it remain significantly impaired in terms of both water quality and quantity. According to the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, although Minimum Flows and Levels have been set for the Wekiva since 1994, three of the eight springs with specific minimum flow requirements have levels below this threshold, three are projected to fall below by 2030, and two are unmonitored. For example, Wekiwa Springs should be flowing at more than 40 million gallons per day, however average flow in 2012 was below 35 million gallons per day. Reduced springs flows degrade the ecosystem for both natural and recreational uses.
In addition, Wekiva’s springs have experienced increased concentrations of nitrates and phosphorous leading to algal blooms that damage the ecosystem for wildlife and humans. The three major springs in the Wekiva River have reported an average nitrate concentration 480% higher than the 2008 Total Maximum Daily Load requirements. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently concluded that 67% of all nitrates entering the Wekiva River come from residential and agriculture fertilizer and septic tanks. As a result, both major headsprings—Rock Springs and Wekiwa—have been designated as “Impaired” by the Department of Environmental Protection.
The Wekiva ecosystem has become degraded and faces future peril from the consequences of a rapidly growing population, failing septic tanks, wasteful water and fertilizer use by residents and agriculture, and ineffective implementation of public policy. As threats to our water quality and supply increase, the environmental and economic consequences of inaction grow as well.