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Alexander Spring

Alexander Springs is the only first-magnitude spring in the federal parks and forests system.

Image of Alexander Spring is a popular swimming area.Alexander Spring is a popular swimming area. © Paul Clark

Alexander Spring is located about 12.5 miles northeast of Umatilla, in Lake County. The Alexander springshed covers an area of 58.5 square miles. A large and powerful surface boil over the main spring vent is readily visible from the shore The spring pool measures approximately 300 feet by 250 feet. Around the main vent, the pool bottom falls away to reveal a large open area of exposed limestone rock and boulders to a depth of about 25 feet Around the limestone, the bottom of the pool is mostly sand, with abundant native aquatic grasses. Thin algae patches are present on the limestone substrate.

Alexander Springs is the only first-magnitude spring in the federal parks and forests system.

Since 1956, the spring discharge has ranged from 202 to 146 cubic feet per second (cfs), with the lowest periods of discharge corresponding to periods of below-normal rainfall in Florida. The water discharging from Alexander Springs is less than 42 years old.

The spring pool is bounded by mixed hardwood and palm forests, with low, pine-wooded sand hills to the north and east. A broad sand beach extends 200 to 300 feet down the southwest bank of the spring run. The spring pool discharges to Alexander Springs Creek, which flows approximately ten miles to the St. Johns River. For the first five miles, the water flows as a broad, clear, slow-moving stream. After that, it becomes a narrow, winding stream, and then once again becomes broad and slow moving.

The area surrounding the spring has been developed by the U.S. Forest Service into a multiple-use recreational facility open to the public. It has clean beaches and clear water; provides picnic and camping facilities, nature trails, and boat rentals; and allows swimming, scuba diving, and snorkeling. The canoe run is usually open and is an easy trip. However, sometimes during the late summer, water hyacinths may jam the stream.

Alexander Spring has been sampled for major ions and nutrients as far back as 1956 by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and quarterly by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection since 2002 for a larger number of analytes, including major ions, nutrients, field analytes, and salinity indicators. Table 1 summarizes these results for selected analytes.

Image of Table 1: Summary of selected water quality results for Alexander Spring Table 1: Summary of selected water quality results for Alexander Spring (Download full size images in the Water Quality Summary Report)

Unlike many Florida springs, nutrient levels in Alexander Spring have remained very low, with values for both total nitrate + nitrite (measured as nitrogen) and dissolved orthophosphate (measured as phosphorus) generally at or below 0.05 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Excess nutrients in a waterbody can fuel the growth of algae and other nuisance aquatic plants. Based on the data shown here (Figure 4), as well as historical and recent data collected by the USGS and St. Johns River Water Management District, no upward trend in macronutrient concentrations has been detected throughout the entire period of record. A large portion of the springshed for Alexander Spring lies within the Ocala National Forest, and existing land use patterns (primarily silviculture) likely do not contribute significant nutrients from surface sources.

Image of Figure 4: Macronutrient trends in Alexander Spring: 2002-12Figure 4: Macronutrient trends in Alexander Spring: 2002-12 (Download full size images in the Water Quality Summary Report)

Salinity indicators (sodium, chloride, sulfate and specific conductance) have been slowly increasing over time. Chloride and sulfate concentrations have been increasing since about 1990, and the trends have continued to the present (Figure 5). Specific conductance trends have historically shown a slow increase since the mid - 1950’s (based on available USGS data). Table 1 shows that the mean value from 2002 to 2012, based on Department data, is 1101 micromhos per centimeter (µmhos/cm), a decrease from the mean values measured in the 1990’s.

Image of Figure 5: Salinity indicator trends in Alexander Spring: 2002-12 Figure 5: Salinity indicator trends in Alexander Spring: 2002-12 (Download full size images in the Water Quality Summary Report)

The measured increases in salinity indicators reflect the potential upcoming of deeper, more saline ground water due to increasing fresh ground water withdrawals from shallower portions of the Floridian aquifer system, decreasing precipitation patterns, or a combination of these two causes.

Dissolved oxygen levels are important for fish and other biota, and are generally measured at levels below 5 mg/L in fresh ground water issuing from spring vents. The levels measured in Alexander Spring (Table 1) are within this normal ground water range.

Boron, not known to occur naturally in high concentrations in fresh Floridian aquifer system ground water, was recently sampled as a possible wastewater tracer in wells and springs, due to its widespread use in laundry detergents. Elevated boron concentrations were detected in Alexander Spring (Table 1); however, when the boron/chloride ratio is calculated for the spring, it is very close to the ratio found in North Atlantic Ocean seawater (approximately 0.00025, or 1 part boron to 4000 parts chloride – Rakestraw et al, 1935). Therefore, the measured boron concentrations in Alexander Spring are likely due to elevated salinity indicators, resulting from relict seawater trapped within the Floridian aquifer system during the last interglacial high sea level stand (during the mid-Pleistocene era, about 120,000 years ago - Muhs et al, 2009).

Sucralose is used as an artificial sweetener. Because it passes through water treatment systems largely intact, it has recently been used as a potential wastewater tracer. No sucralose has been detected in Alexander Spring.


Find References and View Full Size Images:

Download Alexander Spring Water Quality Summary Report June 2015

Alexander Spring Water Quality Summary Report June 2015 - 2.0MB


Image of Tape Grass (Vallisnaria americana) surrounds Alexander Spring vent in this 2009 photo. Historically, this was the dominant submerged aquatic vegetative species growing throughout the upper portion of Alexander Spring Creek. Healthy patches of Vallisnaria are now only seen immediately around the spring vent.Tape Grass (Vallisnaria americana) surrounds Alexander Spring vent in this 2009 photo. Historically, this was the dominant submerged aquatic vegetative species growing throughout the upper portion of Alexander Spring Creek. Healthy patches of Vallisnaria are now only seen immediately around the spring vent. Gary Maddox - FDEP

Many fish, including bass and bluegill, can be seen in the spring pool along with an occasional alligator. A number of different macroinvertebrates are also found in the spring. The number and diversity of these insect species are used as an indicator of water quality. The spring run is also home to the Florida apple snail, an important food source for many animal species.

Image of Photo taken in 2009 shows algae smothering remnants of Vallisnaria americana in Alexander Springs Creek, with large areas of exposed mud and limestone downstream from the Alexander Spring vent. Various algal species have now replaced Vallisnaria as the dominant SAV in the spring run. Zoom+ Photo taken in 2009 shows algae smothering remnants of Vallisnaria americana in Alexander Springs Creek, with large areas of exposed mud and limestone downstream from the Alexander Spring vent. Various algal species have now replaced Vallisnaria as the dominant SAV in the spring run. Gary Maddox - FDEP

Aquatic vegetation surrounds the main spring vent and is present throughout most of the spring run’s upstream reaches where there is open tree canopy. Based on surveys in 2010 by the St. Johns River Water Management District, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) - mainly the native species Vallisneria americana and Najas guadaloupensis - covered more than 115 acres, or more than 65% of the stream bottom upstream of County Road 445. Mats of algae accumulate during the winter and spring in the pool and spring run areas when recreational activity in the spring is at a minimum (Figure 3). Later during the spring and summer when swimming activity is high, much of the algae that has accumulated during the previous season becomes dislodged and drifts down the run.


Find References and View Full Size Images:

Download Alexander Spring Water Quality Summary Report June 2015

Alexander Spring Water Quality Summary Report June 2015 - 2.0MB


Land Uses

Image of Aerial view of Alexander Head Spring looking east-northeast. Dark green areas around the spring vent represent native Vallisnaria americana (tape grass), and lighter green areas away from the vent reflect the presence of nuisance algae. White areas within the run are sandy patches kept plant-free by the trampling feet of numerous daily visitors.Aerial view of Alexander Head Spring looking east-northeast. Dark green areas around the spring vent represent native Vallisnaria americana (tape grass), and lighter green areas away from the vent reflect the presence of nuisance algae. White areas within the run are sandy patches kept plant-free by the trampling feet of numerous daily visitors. FGS

Land use in the Alexander Springs springshed changed markedly from 1973 to 2004 as agricultural lands were converted to urban use. By 2004, more than half of the Alexander springshed was urbanized. Land use in the springshed in 1973 consisted of agriculture (38.4%), urban/mining/transportation/recreation (27.4%), open water/wetlands (25.1%), and forest (9.1%). In contrast, land use in 2004 had shifted to urban/mining/transportation/recreation (58.2%), open water/wetlands (25.3%), agriculture (7.5%), and forest (9.0%). Contaminated storm water runoff from urban areas can potentially contaminate both surface water and ground water.

As of 2007, no wastewater treatment facilities were active in the springshed, and septic systems were the only method of wastewater treatment and disposal.

Image of Figure 1: Alexander Spring. Photo taken in June, 2009 Zoom+ Figure 1: Alexander Spring. Photo taken in June, 2009 Gary Maddox - FDEP

Poorly maintained septic tanks can cause harm to springs by allowing nutrients and other contaminants to seep into underground aquifers.

Restoration Efforts

In 2002, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection completed a sediment removal project in Alexander Springs.


Find References and View Full Size Images:

Download Alexander Spring Water Quality Summary Report June 2015

Alexander Spring Water Quality Summary Report June 2015 - 2.0MB


Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Water Quality Evaluation & TMDL Section

Rick Hicks, PG Administrator
Phone: 850-245-8229
Email
Contact for: General springs information


Local Government and Water Resource Agencies


Citizen Stakeholder and Watershed Organizations


Parks and Conservation Areas


Find References and View Full Size Images:

Download Alexander Spring Water Quality Summary Report June 2015

Alexander Spring Water Quality Summary Report June 2015 - 2.0MB

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Water Quality Summary

Alexander Springs Water Quality Summary, Jun 2015

Download Alexander Spring Water Quality Summary Report June 2015

Alexander Spring Water Quality Summary Report June 2015 - 2.0MB

 

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