Water's Journey: Hidden Rivers of Florida Video Transcript
Part 1 - Water’s Journey: Hidden Rivers of Florida
Funding for this portion of the Water’s Journey outreach program, has been made possible by the generous support of Progress Energy. Major funding for Water's Journey has been provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, protecting Florida's environment for future generations.
Narrator: Earth's is described as a water planet, and without a doubt, water is our most important resource. All living things depend on the natural cycle of water. It is the essence that gives us life.
One of the greatest mysteries of our planet is the magical cycle of water. Rain pours down from the skies, nourishing parched vegetation. Evaporation drives water skyward. Spectacular springs convey great volumes to Earth's magnificent rivers. And mankind is intertwined in the complex and endless renewal of water. Perhaps the most amazing wonder about this great cycle is water’s secret journey underground, where it can travel for hundreds of years before revealing itself on the surface again. Vast reserves of clean water are held within the rock in Earth's aquifers. And to protect those precious resources, mankind must come to understand the body of our planet, for within that body lies an arterial network of pulsating flow. And deep within the veins of mother Earth there is trouble lurking. Trouble from our current activities, trouble with actions caused many years ago. And to safeguard our future we must fully appreciate water as a renewable resource by tracing the water’s path through our lives and our planet.
We'll join a team on a daring journey to follow the connective path of water through the landscape, above and within the earth. They'll venture into the ailing planet on a quest for knowledge to find out what's going wrong.
In this episode of Water’s Journey, we will explore the very heart of Florida's groundwater. Over 8 billion gallons of water a day burst forth from Florida's springs, the largest and most unique concentration of springs on earth. Expedition leader Wes Skiles is a renowned underwater explorer. As a member of the Florida Springs task force, he brings a wealth of experience as one of the few people who have seen firsthand the inside of the Floridan aquifer.
On this day, the task force has given Wes one of the most important mandates of his career. To lead a unique scientific mission to explore and map the inside of the Floridan aquifer. They will bring together a very unique team of scientists and explorers to realize that goal.
Tom Morris is one of the world's leading cave exploration scientists. His lifetime pursuit - to explore the underwater caves of Florida and the life within them. His partner Jill Heinerth, is probably the most active female cave explorer on the planet. Her wealth of experience using high-technology underwater equipment is the perfect complement for the team. But for this expedition to be successful, Wes also needs a piece of equipment that doesn't yet exist. The goal is to dynamically track the location of divers in real time, and follow their path underneath Florida - and that's never been done before.
Electro-magnetics expert Brian Pease was called on to design the technology needed for the project. He has spent most of his life working for the Navy on specialized communications for submarines. He used that expertise to design a transmitter capable of sending out a signal through solid rock and water. If all goes well, this will be the first time the underground path of the aquifer will be mapped in real time, giving us an active picture of the relationship between groundwater systems and society’s activities above.
Wes Skiles: …during the tracking of the team.
Brian Pease: Right this is the receiver.
Wes Skiles: This is a gorgeous example of a disappearing stream. Okay,- incoming.
Narrator: The team starts their journey in north Florida and will be traveling over and through karst terrain. A limestone landscape that is characterized by caves, fissures and underground streams. The goal -- To navigate the complex system of underground rivers from where water disappears underground to the point where it resurfaces in Florida's springs. Each dive will require up to 2 miles of swimming and hours of decompression time.
Tom: Can you hear me okay?
Jill: - Yeah, …
Narrator: Jill and Tom will be in contact with each other through wireless communications in their masks, but because of depth and the thickness of the rock over their heads, they will be out of voice communication with the surface. Their experiences a mystery to the rest of the team until they come up. The state of Florida is a literal swish cheese of water filled labyrinths, exploring and monitoring the inside of these sinuous conduits not only takes courage, but also one of the most refined skill sets of any occupation.
Jill: Well the tunnel really seems to be opening up a little bit here, definitely getting bigger Tom.
Tom: Yeah we've hit pay dirt here.
Jill: Oh my God -- will you look at this.
Comment: There goes the floor of the cave.
Jill: Whoo-hoo! This is our entry into the Floridan aquifer Tom! What a place, that is phenomenal. Oh I don't think I’ve ever seen a drop like this.
Tom: It looks like we're fixing to drop down through 50 billion years of limestone.
Jill: Well how far you think we've gone?
Tom: I guess we’re at least a half-mile in.
Jill: Yeah, I think you're right. Well let's get a good waypoint at this junction here.
Narrator: On the surface Wes and Brian began tracking the signal. It's hard to imagine an invisible river, unseen, hundreds of feet directly below.
Wes: They are underground beneath us right here. We've gone from the fringes of the Cody escarpment are we are now on the edge of society.
Narrator: Tom and Jill were exploring this part of the system just a few months ago. They quickly realized something was very different. The roof of the cave has collapsed and the huge cavern has been reduced to an opening just a few feet across. For the mission to have a chance to be successful, the divers have to get to the other side of an avalanche of sand and rubble. Tom manages to barely squeeze through but now he's blocking the water's exit like a cork and the pressure keeps growing. His equipment is also taking a beating. Inch by inch, Tom gropes trying to get some leverage. Finally after minutes of scratching and digging, Tom makes it through. Once past the debris from the cave-in the divers can see the rest of the cave is unchanged.
One of the biggest utilizations of water in Florida is farming. Although it is a justifiable use, it has also created serious issues that are surfacing in springs, the windows into our aquifers. While some of Florida's springs are healthy, many show alarming, even dangerous levels of nitrates. And nitrates are the problem. They can be great on crops, but when they enter the aquifer and travel to springs, they can ultimately upset nature's balance.
End of part one
Narrator: As part of an exciting environmental program, farmers working with 24 state and federal agencies have created a major nitrate reduction plan through a method of best management practices, or BMPs. This mobile irrigation lab analyzes the output and distribution range of spinkler heads. From the data, the team creates a master plan to optimize coverage over plants. This saves the farmer money and conserves precious water resources. On livestock farms, the challenge is to find a way to effectively manage the waste products that animals create. Rather than letting it all run directly into the ground, BMPs are helping farmers develop a system that captures wastes. Liquid wastes are captured and sprayed on special plants that naturally absorb high levels of nitrogen. Compost and manure is gathered and sold as an ideal natural, fertilizer. In both situations we see that farmers understand that their future is vested in a healthy environment and good clean water. Like recycling, it is all a matter of finding the right partner who needs the byproduct that they create.
The thirsty ground in Florida quickly if soaks up water that falls to earth. Plants soak up some water, and filter out some nutrients and pollutants. Other water continues to percolate down through tiny spaces between soil particles. This water eventually saturates the underlying limestone like a soaking wet sponge. As water travels through air and soil it picks up carbon dioxide and naturally becomes mildly acidic. It slowly dissolves the porous limestone of Florida, enlarging small cracks and fissures in the rock. Over long periods of time those tiny voids can expand into vast underground caves.
Jill: Wow, this passage is totally stagnant.
Tom: Yeah, it looks like we are getting a lot of stuff from the surface down here. Getting a lot of stuff from above including nitrates, pesticides, and other pollutants I imagine. Comes in with the rainwater off of lawns….
Narrator: Although this could be an entire community’s source for fresh drinking water, the divers find very disturbing signs.
Jill: Wow, will you look at that? A huge oil drum right in the middle of the cave -can you believe it?
Tom: Yeah I believe it, for many years people in the state have used these sinkholes to get rid of trash. What they don't realize is that they are dropping it the right down in the water they might be drinking tomorrow.
Jill: It is so sad to see all of this.
Wes: Why it's an elusive kind of sinkhole Brian, look at it.
Brian: Yeah this really goes down.
Wes: It doesn't look that big at first but then, whoa - look at that. Look at all the garbage down in this thing. And people are obviously backing up to this place and dumping their garbage right into the sink.
Brian: Just using it for a dump.
Wes: Oh my gosh.
Jill: So all this, like, wood and sticks and stuff has just been sucked in here?
Tom: Yeah, this stuff's not as bad as those big chemical containers, but it means we are getting close to an opening.
Wes: And people have no idea, do they? - They are thinking that they are getting rid of this - that they're getting it out of their lives and what they're actually doing is putting it down into their drinking water where they are going to re-consume the very poisons they are trying to run away from.
Brian: The signal is getting stronger.
Wes: Yeah, they’re gonna come up down here. They are not going to be too pleased when they come up in it though.
Jill: this is like Dracula's castle.
Tom: There’s a lot of dirty water up over our heads.
Jill: It’s getting warmer too, this dirty water.
Tom: The water is in layers. Let's go up just a little ways and see what it looks like.
Jill: Yeah I say go all the way up to the top.
Wes: You can see their light now.
Narrator: Brian's technology is finally putting a face on Florida's groundwater. Giving the team undeniable proof about the interconnections between the surface and groundwater.
Jill: It's an absolute debris slide going all the way down in here. We followed this mound of sticks and garbage and batteries and containers and barbecue grills.
Tom: Wheww, this place stinks.
Narrator: This sinkhole is one of the many stopping the points were Jill and Tom restock with fresh tanks before they descend again.
Tom: Jill, your com working OK?
Jill: Yeah, yeah, I gotcha Tom.
Tom: Alright let's go.
Narrator: The divers head back down and level out more than 100 feet below.
Jill: We're at 182 feet and bearing due West.
Wes: Ya know, so many people think that culverts drain into some kind of water purification system, and the reality in Florida is we just divert that water directly into holding ponds with no filtration and that water can then leach right down into the aquifer.
Tom: Hey Jill, looky up ahead at that big chunk of rock up on the left - this is what we call Swiss cheese. So much of that rock has dissolved away that there's as many spaces in the thing as there is rock. And all those little holes hold water. This is really what aquifer is -- it's a rock formation that holds our drinking water.
Brian: Right towards the building.
Wes: This is great.
Brian: Yeah, looks like it's going to go underneath.
Wes: Right into the building, huh?
Brian: Yep, right into the building and right underneath.
Wes: That’s radical…. So they’re still down there right now?
Brian: Yep, I'll have to go down here to pick them up.
Wes: So they’re right here.
Brian: Yep, they’re right under us…. We’ve gotta go….. I think they're going this way.
Wes: Excuse us, underground survey in progress.
Brian: Heading toward the salad bar.
Wes: (laughs) Headin toward the salad bar.
Jill: Well, it has been almost 3 hours since we left that sinkhole.
Tom: Yeah, when do you say we stop for lunch?
Jill: Soon I hope.
Wes: Oh great. Its classic Florida. I mean how long were we in there? - Like one minute? And it starts raining. Look at this, this is a swallet hole here, and all of the water we've seen running off of all the human activity, is coming into this creek and going down here into our drinking water, into the Floridan aquifer.
Jill: Alright, let's grab this last sample and get out of here.
Narrator: As Florida's population grows, greater and greater stress is put on the water supply. In the last 40 years, Florida's population has quadrupled. 450 acres a day is lost to development, meaning vast recharge areas for springs are lost.
But the Floridan aquifer is a renewable resource, if everyone does his or her part, there can be plenty of clean water for the future.
Groundwater is not limitless. Everyone can use less water by taking shorter showers, turning off running water, fixing leaks, and installing water saving devices and toilets, showerheads, and other locations around the house. But awareness of our personal impact on the environment is the biggest critical step. The maintenance of each lawn makes a difference. Everyone can at least reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides and use only slow-release products. Watering at night allows more water to get into the grass instead of being evaporated into the heat of the day. Sensor switches make sure your sprinklers aren't running during a rainstorm. But more and more citizens are turning towards an even better, cost-saving alternative of drought tolerant landscaping, which saves water and has many side benefits.
End of part two.
Narrator: Humans also process water. Some evaporates as sweat, while some is processed in other ways. In Florida much of that wastewater goes to septic tanks. Drain fields from those tanks often allow nitrates to leach into the ground. A better destination is a wastewater treatment facility that safeguards the community against disease and protects the groundwater from unwelcome contamination. The plant speeds up natural processes that break down waste into harmless byproducts. Fluids in the tanks are vigorously agitated to provide microbes with a favorable environment for feeding. Then a series of settling and treatment processes creates a finished product.
Jill: OK Tom let me jot down our data here. This is going to be profile sample number four, looking at the general water chemistry and let's see… depth is 82 feet, the right time – OK, I got it, let’s go Tom.
Brian: I got them really clearly right here, it looks like they are heading for those houses right over there.
Wes: Right there huh? Excuse us, - cave survey coming through. I'm going to mark this just because it's right in the middle of the fairway here, and it's kind of an interesting spot to have.
Narrator: Deep below the golf course, the divers continued to transmit the signal to Wes and Brian.
Wes: This just goes to show you there's no facet of life that these underground systems aren't able to travel under. Here we’re literally going underneath somebody's patio here and into their sliding glass door and into the Florida room.
Brian: How close should I go to the house?
Wes: Well I don't know – let’s go through the house if we can.
Tom: Well, well, well, how about this?
Jill: You are a comedian. So this is someone's water will?
Tom: Yeah, there are millions of wells that tap the Floridan aquifer here in the state. It's not uncommon for us to find these things down here.
Wes: They’re in the plumbing of the earth, underneath the water plumbing of the house. That's a little poetic there isn’t it?
Brian: Yeah, now they're heading out towards the driveway.
Brian: They’re heading this way.
Wes: Now look at this. This is reclamation water, this is just what I was telling you about. This is one of the best solutions to Florida's growing water problem. Now this water is coming from a wastewater treatment facility, and it's treated water, you don't want to drink this water but it is perfect for your irrigation to put out on yards and golf courses and that is how it's being used here in this golf community.
Jill: Hey Tom, swimming down these passages, what we’re really doing is exploring the hidden Rivers of Florida.
Narrator: Wes and Brian are discovering there are no places in Florida that are exempt from concern. Every Floridian has to think hard about how their actions might be affecting the groundwater that needs their feet.
Floridians live atop of a vast, ancient limestone foundation that was once a shallow coral sea. Laid down over millions of years the skeletal remains of sea creatures were compacted into rock but is now riddled with caves. Tom and Jill are now traveling through a layer of rock that was slowly washed away over time. It is low, and they have to move carefully to find spaces that are large enough to travel through. The caves become little more than cracks and swimming becomes more like crawling.
Tom: Sorry Jill this is just getting ugly up here.
Jill: Oh, I can't see much but I think it's bigger on the right.
Wes: More than a 90° turn about a 120° turn.
Brian: Yeah, I'm right over the top at the moment.
Wes: So it must be really small and tangely down there right now.
Tom: I’m getting awful low on air now.
Wes: I’m almost nervous. You can feel, you can feel that this area they're in right now is different than a lot of the places they've been in.
Narrator: Although they have accomplished many things on this expedition, they're looking through the murky water squarely at a possible defeat.
Tom: Oh, great that is just what I needed to hear.
Narrator: Their objective to make it to the spring looks impossible from this viewpoint. The divers decide there is no way to go forward, but before quitting they have just enough air to look for an alternate route that will hopefully lead to the springs.
Wes: We’ve worked down to a snail's pace through here, it will be interesting to hear their version of what kind of environment they were in when they were going through this treck.
Narrator: Finally, an encouraging sign, they can feel the current of the water at their back.
Wes: Now this is quintessential karst geomorphology huh? This is where karst gets its name, this beautiful lime rock terrain like this.
Narrator: They finally found their way forward.
Jill: Looks like we found the flow Tom.
Tom: Wow, this is gorgeous.
Brian: I’m right over the top of them here.
Wes: Oh wow, look at this… man is that pretty. It's beautiful though.
Narrator: Finally after twists and turns, crawling through the cracks, victory is within their grasp.
Wes: Alright, well here they are they're coming through a sinkhole. Ya know, here we are at the end of the water’s journey and most people think of this as the beginning. In reality this water has come all this way through all these features, underneath golf courses, restaurants, highways. Just unbelievable. You would not believe the places y’all been underneath.
Narrator: in the end the dive team successfully traveled more than 10 miles through the underground systems of Florida to enlighten people about their relationship with their drinking water. Recognizing that protection of recharge areas is one of the best ways to safeguard groundwater, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is currently purchasing thousands of acres of sensitive lands within the re-charge zones of several of Florida's largest Springs. A major victory. State legislators have put a priority on funding research, education, and land acquisition efforts through the Florida Springs initiative. Over 300 farmers have voluntarily adopted and installed facilities suggested by best management practices. Additional efforts being made by farms, businesses, homeowners and local governments are proving that we can reduce, even reverse the negative impact being made on groundwater and springs.
Wes: It's the greatest groundwater system on earth - there's not another aquifer on the planet like the Floridan aquifer. We can make a difference. We can change the negative direction of water quality and quantity is going, but we just have to put a little effort into it.
Music over credits
End of part 3