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~Invasive algal plant removal and septic connection projects will improve water quality~

eel grass

Following invasive algal species removal in Crystal River, eel grass plantings improve wildlife habitats.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has awarded more than $7.5 million in grants for water-quality enhancement projects in Citrus County to protect the health of Kings Bay and Crystal River's unique spring-fed systems comprised of more than 70 freshwater springs throughout a 600-acre bay.

"We are pleased to provide springs funding for projects that will help restore and protect these important waterways," said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. "This suite of vital projects will enhance water quality for residents, visitors and wildlife in this ecologically diverse region."

The Kings Bay and Crystal River systems have seen an increase in the invasive algal species of Lyngbya, a cyanobacteria that can form floating mats that are up to 6-feet deep. These mats block sunlight and prevent the establishment of native, healthy submerged aquatic vegetation such as eel grass. As Lyngbya dies off, it settles along the spring floor, clogging natural spring vents and reducing water flow, further inhibiting native plant growth and reducing invertebrate production and diversity. 

Beginning in 2014, Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) scientists began a pilot project to grow eel grass in Hunter's Cove, north of Crystal River. During the project, scientists noted improvements to the habitat, which is vital for manatees, fish, turtles and other wildlife.

“I am proud to have partnered with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in efforts to protect and preserve Florida’s most pristine springs," Senator Wilton Simpson said. "These projects will benefit not only the waterways, but all aspects of life in Kings Bay and Crystal River.”

Crystal River was awarded a $2 million grant as part of the 2016-17 "Florida First" budget allocations for Florida springs projects. The Kings Bay restoration project will remove approximately 10,000 cubic yards of Lyngbya and associated organics within three areas of critical concern in Kings Bay.

“Grants from the DEP for projects like Kings Bay Restoration are truly appreciated in communities like ours,” said David Burnell, city manager of the city of Crystal River. “These projects not only focus on better water quality and improved habitat for wildlife, but they ultimately improve the entire Southwest Florida community.”

Save Crystal River, Inc. was awarded a $1.4 million legislative appropriation grant to remove approximately 100,000 square feet of Lyngbya and associated organics from two additional areas in northeast Kings Bay. After all of the areas are cleared, they will be replanted with eel grass, and monitored and maintained to ensure successful plant growth.

“Working with DEP on these important restoration projects helps us to meet our goals of maintaining and safeguarding Florida’s distinctive natural resources and quality of life for current and future generations to enjoy now and for decades to come,” said Lisa Moore, president of Save Crystal River, Inc.

DEP and SWFWMD are also investing in improvements to septic and sewer systems in the area. Several wastewater package plants, as well as residential and commercial septic tanks, are located near the first magnitude springs of Kings Bay and Crystal River. The facilities and tanks increase nutrient levels in the ground and surface waters, which affects water quality and can contribute to invasive algal blooms.

“These projects are the result of collaborative efforts between our scientists, local government partners and the DEP to reduce nutrients in the springshed and improve water quality in these important springs and rivers,” said Brian Armstrong, Executive Director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “We appreciate the support of Governor Rick Scott and Senator Wilton Simpson to successfully complete these projects.”

The SWFWMD was awarded two grants for a total of $4.2 million as part of the 2015-16 "Keep Florida Working" budget allocations for Florida springs projects: 

  • A $2 million grant for the Citrus County private package wastewater plant interconnection project will help acquire and demolish up to nine existing wastewater package plants, and design, permit and construct up to nine lift stations on those same sites, connecting the lift stations to Citrus County's central wastewater collection system. The project will reduce nutrients by an estimated 2,000 pounds per year to the Kings Bay, Crystal River and Homosassa Springs springsheds, and will also increase the availability of reclaimed water for potential reuse or aquifer recharge.
  • A $2.2 million grant for the Fort Island Trail septic interconnection project will help construct a municipal sanitary sewer system to connect up to 250 existing residential septic tanks to the county's central wastewater collection system. The project will include the installation of approximately 20,500 linear feet of sewer line to connect these homes.

These DEP and SWFWMD projects will augment Citrus County's continuing efforts to provide wastewater service to existing residential and commercial developments adjacent to Crystal River and Homosassa Springs.

Since 2007, more than $20 million in state funding has been awarded to help restore Kings Bay and Crystal River.