Rainbow Springs is the fourth largest and one of the most picturesque of Florida’s first magnitude springs. Archaeological evidence dating back 12,000 years ago shows that Rainbow Springs was important to prehistoric people for clean water, food and making stone tools.
What makes this set of springs so timeless? A confluence of multiple spring vents, some with boils, picturesque surroundings, an abundance of wildlife, and abundant recreational opportunities in a state park attracts new visitors and local Marion County residents alike. Rainbow Springs State park is located approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 km) north of Dunnellon, in Marion County.
At least four major spring vents, with numerous smaller vents and sand boils, at an average depth of 13 feet, occur within the headspring area; they are collectively referred to as the Rainbow Springs Group. Together with other named and unnamed springs, they contribute up to 462 million gallons of fresh water daily to form the 5.6 mile Rainbow River. Crystalline clear blue water flows out of the springs and over the bottom of a spring run composed of white sand, interspersed and bordered by beds of aquatic vegetation.
The four largest springs - Rainbow No. 1, Rainbow No. 4, Rainbow No. 6, and Bubbling Springs - occur within the first half mile of the head of the Rainbow River. They are characterized by limestone boulders, white sand, and predominantly native aquatic vegetation. Bubbling sand boils can be seen at all of these springs with the exception of Rainbow No. 4.
Rainbow Springs is designated a National Natural Landmark and the Rainbow River is an Aquatic Preserve and an Outstanding Florida Water
The springs had been a tourist attraction since the early 1930s, and became a highly popular private park in the 1960s with glass bottom boat and gondola rides, riverboat tours, log raft rides, submarine boat tours and other activities. After the attraction closed in 1974, local citizens pressed the state of Florida to purchase the lands around the springs. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service now manages it as Rainbow Springs State Park. In addition, Rainbow Springs is designated a National Natural Landmark and the Rainbow River is an Aquatic Preserve and an Outstanding Florida Water.
Surrounding the springs are high rolling sand hills with pine forest, agricultural fields and developed residential properties. The picturesque views at the park hide the fact that the springs are now in trouble.
The water in the Rainbow River now contains more than 100 times the natural level of nitrates, a nutrient known to contribute to excessive growth of algae. Scientists attribute this high level of nitrates to human activities within the springshed. Land use within the springshed changed from early agrarian settlements to larger landholdings used for raising horses and for residential development. Nitrates from fertilizers and both animal and human wastes seep through the soil to reach the groundwater and the unique karst geology of Rainbow Springs. The generation of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nutrients, a designation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection which signifies an impairment of concern, is expected for 2013. The challenge is to determine what roles various user groups have within the Rainbow Springshed in contributing excess nutrients to the springshed and then to determine necessary actions to reduce their negative impact.
Additionally there has been a slight decrease in flow from the Rainbow Springs. It is uncertain if this is due to more than climatic variation. It is clear, however, that adequate flow is very important to springs health.
Lastly, the Rainbow River is very popular for recreation. It receives heavy use by multiple groups: swimmers, tubers, divers, fisherman, and boaters. In addition to safety concerns during simultaneous recreational activities, human over use can harm the native aquatic plants, disturb the sediments and increase the turbidity and damage habitat for fish and wildlife species which inhabit the Rainbow Spring and spring run. Managing the balance of recreation with resource protection can be a challenge.
Help on the way
A Rainbow Springs Basin Management Action Plan will serve as a forum for defining restoration actions, discussing concerns and sharing current research from citizens, scientists, local, regional and state government officials, business owners, agriculturalists, environmental interest groups and other stakeholders. Stakeholder involvement is paramount in developing and implementing actions to restore the Rainbow Springs.
Rainbow Springs draft restoration plan - 3.0MB
Presentations from the April 14, 2011 working group meeting
Regulation of mines - 2.4MB
Update Slideshow on water quality in Rainbow Springs with information about land uses and nitrate sources can be found below. Presented by Dave DeWitt at the January 13th 2011 Working Group Meeting at the Dunnellon Public Library.
Rainbow Springs BWG Mtg Slideshow Jan 2011 - 2.2MB
*Springshed and Spring Recharge Area
This map shows the 686 square mile springshed or spring recharge area where rainfall enters the ground and flows through the aquifer to Rainbow Springs. Pollutants from fertilizers and pesticides, faulty septic systems and stormwater runoff in the springshed can harm the quality of water in the aquifer, the source of our drinking water and water flowing from Rainbow Springs.
Groundwater flows are dynamic, and the area covered by the springshed should not be interpreted as absolute or static, as the springshed may fluctuate due to groundwater withdrawals, drought, heavy precipitation or other factors. For more information about the springshed data, download the document below.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Ground Water and Springs Protection
Rick Hicks, PG Administrator
Phone: (850) 245-8229
Contact for: General springs information
Basin Management Action Plan Development
Terry Hansen, Basin Coordinator
Phone: (850) 245-8561
Contact for: Information on TMDL and BMAP development and Implementation
- Southwest Florida Water Management District
- City of Williston
- Marion County
- City of Dunnellon
- Florida Department of Agriculture, Office of Agricultural Water Policy
- Levy County
Citizen Stakeholder and Watershed Organizations
- Rainbow River Conservation
- Friends of Rainbow Springs State Park
- Marion Audubon Society
- Howard T. Odum Springs Institute
- Florida Native Plant Society
- Marion Big Scrub Native Plant Society
Parks and Conservation Areas
Basin Management Plan Development Program
Local Government and Water Resource Agencies