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Troubled Waters: It’s All Connected

When we examine the health of the St. Johns and the other surface waters of our state, we must also take into consideration what is happening beneath the ground. For millions of years, the skeletons of coral, shellfish, and fish accumulated on the sea floor, creating a layer of limestone that ranges from a couple of hundred feet thick to several thousand. This limestone and dolomite formation was eventually covered by sand and clay and Florida formed when the seas receded. As water percolated through the porous limestone, it dissolved some of the rock, forming aquifers, or areas that hold large quantities of water.

One of the most productive aquifer systems in the world and the source of water for the vast majority of Floridians is the Floridan Aquifer. The Floridan underlies an area of about 100,000 square miles in southern Alabama, southeastern Georgia, southern South Carolina, and all of Florida.

The groundwater in the aquifer flows up through natural openings in the Earth’s surface to form springs. Florida is home to more than 1000 springs, one of the largest concentrations in the world. Springs provide a significant source of fresh water to surface water systems. For instance, over 100 springs provide about 30% of the flow of the St. Johns River.

The water stored in the aquifer is replenished, or recharged, by rainfall.The lands that direct rainfall into our waterways are called watersheds. Recharge areas are those lands where rainfall can percolate down through the soil and limestone or flow through conduits in the ground to replenish the aquifer.

As a result, our aquifer is extremely vulnerable to pollution from septic tanks, fertilizers, manure and toxic chemicals that are released into our environment. These same pollutants also make their way into our surface waters via springs and stormwater runoff.

When we pump water out of the aquifer faster than it can be recharged, we also harm both our groundwater and surface waters. Over-pumping can reduce the pressure in the aquifer, causing sinkholes, saltwater intrusion, the reduction of flow for our springs and rivers, and wells and wetlands to dry up. In some cases, springs have even stopped flowing and ceased to exist.

The bottom line is that our waterways, both below the ground and above, are intricately linked.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the connection between the aquifer, our springs, and the St. Johns. 

“There is but one water in Florida. More so than any state in the US, Florida’s surface water and ground water is so interconnected, it’s almost unrealistic to talk about them as being separated from each other.” –
Jim Gross Geologist and Executive Director of Florida Defenders of the Environment

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