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

CITRA– The Florida Department of Environmental Protection today engaged local governments, scientists, environmentalists, agricultural operators and other stakeholders in the tenth technical meeting to develop a restoration plan, or Basin Management Action Plan, for the Silver Springs Group and Silver River.

Silver Springs, near Ocala, is among the largest and best known of Florida’s first magnitude springs, with an estimated average discharge of more than 550 million gallons each day. It is home to Florida’s newest state park - Silver Springs State Park.

"Silver Springs is one of Florida’s most iconic springs,” said Tom Frick, Director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “Too much nitrogen from fertilizers and human and animal waste is harming this treasure just as it is many springs in Florida. Solving the problem requires well-planned, aggressively executed local and state investments and actions, which this restoration plan is being designed to achieve.”

Silver Springs suffers from nitrate pollution. Nitrate concentrations are consistently reported above 0.38 milligram per liter and can exceed 1 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 November 2012. Reaching this target will require a 79 percent reduction in nitrate inputs.

The restoration plan under development will set forth the stormwater and wastewater projects and management practices necessary to reduce the nitrate concentrations in the Silver Springs Group and Silver River and restore the system to health. It will include an implementation schedule, and will account for the restoration actions Marion County and other stakeholders are already undertaking.

Silver Springs is the source of the Silver River, a tributary to the Ocklawaha River. Its springshed — the geographic area that contributes water and pollutants to the spring discharge — overlaps that of the Rainbow Springs system to the southwest. There are extensive agricultural operations in the area, but it has become increasingly urbanized during the last 50 years.

The sources of nitrates into the Silver Springs system include inorganic fertilizers applied to agricultural fields, yards, and golf courses along with organic sources, including domestic wastewater and residuals, septic tank effluent and animal waste from equine and cow/calf operations. These contaminants make their way into the groundwater, often by way of stormwater runoff, and are delivered to the spring system. Elevated nitrate concentrations in the Upper Silver River, in turn, come from the spring system. Reducing nitrates in the Silver Springs system will help reduce the growth of algae, enhance water clarity in the Silver River and improve native aquatic vegetation and other habitat.

Today’s BMAP meeting focused on proposed restoration projects, the status of the groundwater data analysis and nitrogen source inventory, updates by stakeholders on activities to date and a presentation by the Florida Springs Institute on its management plan. Formal presentations will be followed by a tour of local agriculture operations to view equine and cow/calf best management practices.

With the support of Governor Rick Scott, twice as much funding has been dedicated exclusively to springs protection than in any other three-year period in Florida’s history. Governor 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 the Department's water quality restoration program, see