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~DEP staff and stakeholders review potential projects and programs to improve water quality~

DUNNELON – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection today engaged local governments, scientists, environmentalists, agricultural operators and other stakeholders in the fourth meeting to develop a restoration plan, or Basin Management Action Plan, to guide restoration of the Rainbow Springs Group and Rainbow River. Rainbow Springs is Florida's fourth largest spring, the source of the Rainbow River and site of one of Florida’s most popular state parks. The system is both an Aquatic Preserve and an Outstanding Florida Water.

Like many other spring systems in Florida, the Rainbow Springs Group suffers from nitrate pollution. Nitrate concentrations in Rainbow Springs are consistently reported above 1 milligram per liter and can approach 2 mg/L -- well above Florida’s springs water quality criterion of 0.35 mg/L. That water quality criterion is the basis for the Department's restoration target for the spring system, adopted in May of last year.  Reaching this target will require an 82 percent reduction in nitrate inputs.

“Rainbow Springs is a prime example of Florida’s remarkable natural beauty at risk,” said Tom Frick, Director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “The problem—excess nitrates—is known. Solving the problem requires well-planned, aggressively executed local and state investments and actions, which BMAPs are designed to achieve.”

The Rainbow Springs Group springshed—the area contributing water to the system—covers some 686 square miles in Marion, Alachua and Levy counties. Its landscape comprises rolling sand hills with pine forest, agricultural fields and growing residential areas. Sources of nitrate include septic tanks, fertilizer from agricultural and urban lands, and livestock waste. The nitrates are washed off by stormwater and seep into the underlying karst geology, which is characterized by open passages that readily transport groundwater and nitrates into the springs.

Today’s BMAP meeting focused on nitrogen reducing strategies, especially by the agriculture community. The Southwest Florida Water Management District discussed FARMS (Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems), its cost-share program with agricultural operators to implement best management practices (BMPs). The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also gave a presentation on agricultural BMPs and how they are implemented and tracked. The presentation by Marion County representatives outlined wastewater and stormwater projects the county has already completed or have under development and the nitrogen reduction benefits they provide.

“The District is committed to providing continued technical assistance in the BMAP effort. Rainbow River is one of the District’s top priority water bodies and we’re focusing our on-going restoration efforts to improve water resources in the basin,” said Veronica Craw, Manager of the Southwest Florida Water Mangement District Springs and Environmental Flows Section.

Reducing nitrates in the springs will help reduce the growth of algae, enhance water clarity in the Rainbow River, and improve native aquatic vegetation and habitat. Water quality improvement must coincide with restoring sufficient flow to improve the overall health of the spring and river system. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has scheduled development of a “minimum flow” for Rainbow River and Springs, which will scientifically establish the flow necessary to protect the water resources while allowing sustainable withdrawals to meet human needs.

With the support of Governor Scott , twice as much funding has been dedicated exclusively to springs protection than in any other three-year period in Florida’s history. Governor Rick Scott recently announced $55 million for restoring and protecting Florida’s springs in the 2014-2015 “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget.”

For more information about DEP’s water quality restoration program, see For information on Rainbow Springs State Park, see