Springs

Photo: Joe Davis, FWC

Vulnerability:

This conservation asset was not assessed for vulnerability

General Information

Springs are present in the north and central regions of Florida where underlying limestone is close to the surface. Springs often represent headwaters or low-order tributaries. Because of the calcareous nature of the limestone aquifer, the outflow from most springs carries dissolved mineral ions such as calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, sulfate, and sodium. Springs typically have high water clarity, low sedimentation, stable channels, and openings that are less than 40 feet (12.2 m) wide.

Individual springs are stable systems, with very little change in water temperature, water flow, or chemical composition, but those characteristics can vary from one spring to the next.

Vegetation in spring and spring run habitats consist of submerged aquatic vegetation, aquatic algae covering limestone outcroppings, and species such as tape grass, wild rice, and giant cutgrass located in the spring runs.

The constant temperatures of springs provide essential habitat for manatees and some species of fish. There are 1,089 mapped springs, with 33 first magnitude springs (springs that discharge water at a rate of at least 2800 liters or 100 cubic feet of water per second).

Climate Impacts

A 1 m sea level rise would inundate 17% of Florida's springs, 18% of the first magnitude springs, and a 3 m sea level rise would inundate 26% of the state's springs and 36% of the first magnitude springs. There will be additional impacts to springs from sea level rise as saltwater intrusion occurs through groundwater.

Increased precipitation could lead to increased nutrient, sediment and pollutant loading within the system.

Increased temperatures, as well as extreme events will enhance invasive species processes, from introduction through establishment and expansion.

More information about general climate impacts to habitats in Florida.

Climate Impacts to Species

Changes in the intensity and frequency of storm events and extreme conditions (e.g., drought, floods) will affect the amount of stormwater runoff entering the springs. Increased nutrient concentrations and chemical pollutants carried in runoff will impact water quality and clarity and contribute to algae blooms that impact native vegetation and interfere with the spring's ecosystem.

Many species such as the West Indian manatee, American eel and American shad spend time in both the freshwater springs the marine environment. Connectivity between the spring and the ocean is important, but could be impacted due to increased drought and lowered ground water levels.

The loggerhead musk turtle is rarely found outside of Florida's springs and forages for algae, insects and snails. Water quality degradation that impacts the insects and snails would eliminate critical food sources for this turtle.

Water quality and clarity degradation could impact the spring and spring run vegetation, which manatees are forage on, particularly important during cold weather events when they congregate in the springs.

There are multiple species that are found only in springs, including Albino cave crayfish and spring crayfish, that are very sensitive to changes in water quality.

More information about general climate impacts to species in Florida.

Other Non-climate Threats

  • Conversion to commercial and industrial development
  • Conversion to recreation areas
  • Groundwater withdrawal
  • Incompatible forestry practices
  • Incompatible recreational activities
  • Incompatible resource extraction
  • Invasive animals
  • Invasive plants
  • Nutrient loads - agriculture and urban
  • Surface water withdrawal and diversion

More information about climate change interactions with existing threats and stressors in Florida.

Adaptation Strategies

Protection

  • Maintain habitat quality to enhance the resilience of springs to changing conditions.
  • Maintain canopy cover near spring runs to reduce thermal stress and evaporation.
  • Protect riparian buffers to reduce stormwater runoff from adjacent development.
  • Restrict development and other land uses that alter disturbance processes in and around springs and spring runs.

Restoration

  • Improve habitat quality to enhance the resilience of springs to changing conditions.
  • Restore local habitats and microhabitats especially for aquatic caves (e.g., remove or prevent the growth of harmful algae).
  • Manage access to springs and spring runs for all species, remove physical barriers to fish movement.
  • Replace impervious surfaces with permeable pavement to allow runoff to flow through.
  • Enhance access to springs by manatees for future conditions.
  • Reduce bare ground adjacent to water flowing into springs.
  • Reduce point and nonpoint sources of pollutants and nutrients (e.g., Nitrogen, Phosphorous, toxins) from agricultural and residential land use activities.
  • Restore riparian areas to increase water retention and uptake of soil retention and reduce impacts of flood events, erosion, and sedimentation.
  • Implement management practices that eliminate or reduce application of pesticides in the rainy season.

Planning

  • Reduce future roadway and paved area construction near aquatic systems to maintain natural drainage patterns.
  • Develop strategies to deal with increased demands for recreational use.
  • Create, maintain and enforce minimum flows to prevent harmful drawdown of groundwater and allow recharge during periods of decreased precipitation or drought.

Policy

  • Review and update Best Management Practices to accommodate current and future conditions.
  • Develop policies and incentives for reducing impervious surface and encouraging low impact development to increase groundwater recharge.
  • Promote water use and allocation measures, adjusted for more variable conditions, to protect critical habitats.
  • Develop incentives for private landowners to reduce fertilizer and pesticide use.

Education and Outreach

  • Work with counties, local municipalities and regional planning councils to incorporate natural resources adaptation strategies in comprehensive plans and hazard planning efforts.
  • Develop educational materials for private landowners on appropriate use of fertilizers and pesticides and impacts on water quality.
  • Work with volunteers to control invasive species.
  • Actively engage with communities to minimize urban encroachment.
  • Encourage citizen scientists to track phenology and contribute to national efforts.
  • Ensure public know how to report new disease occurrences for fish and game.
  • Work with communities to improve stormwater runoff and encourage groundwater recharge options through low impact development and retrofits.

More information about adaptation strategies.