Santa Fe River Springs
The Santa Fe River of north-central Florida is fed by the flow from many springs: Ginnie, Poe, Hornsby, Lilly, Rum Island, and Gilchrist Blue, to name a few. In fact, during dry seasons, the collective spring flow can make up the majority of the water in the river.
The river itself originates in a headwater swamp, goes underground, and re-emerges (along with additional groundwater) at Santa Fe River Rise. The majority of the Santa Fe River springs are downstream of the river rise. Some of the springs are located within the lush floodplain forest of the river, while others are within the river itself or along the banks. Most of the spring runs are relatively short, with the exception of the Ichetucknee River. The Santa Fe River and spring basin is also characterized by numerous swallets, which remind us of the close interaction between surface water and groundwater in the region. In addition, caves and conduits are common in the basin (much to the delight of cave divers!).
Much of the land bordering the river and the springs is in a natural condition, with a number of public parks (River Rise Preserve State Park, O’leno State Park, and Poe Springs County Park) and privately run parks (such as Ginnie Springs Resort and Blue Springs). Most of the springs discharge clear blue water, which is a stark contrast with the darker, tannic water of the river. As a result, the limerock ledges, sandy bottom, and native eelgrass waving in the current can easily be seen in many of the spring runs. The Santa Fe River and spring runs are also home to a high diversity of freshwater turtles; the Suwannee Cooter is most often observed basking on logs along the shoreline. The springs within these parks and elsewhere on the river are popular recreation areas for swimming, tubing, paddling, boating, diving, snorkeling, and nature photography.
In spite of the predominantly natural conditions near the springs, the land use in the larger springshed has changed over the years from rural and light agriculture to more intensive agriculture and residential development.
In spite of the predominantly natural conditions near the springs, the spring water chemistry and biology is being degraded. The land use in the larger springshed that provides groundwater to the springs has changed over the years from rural and light agriculture to more intensive agriculture and residential development. The springs are discharging water that is increasing in nitrate levels and is not as clear as it once was. In fact, the lower Santa Fe River has been determined to be impaired. The major sources of nitrates in the springshed are fertilizer (from agricultural operations and increasing residential development) and human and animal wastes. In addition, there is evidence that the amount of water flowing in the springs and the river has decreased due to other competing uses.
Given the importance of these springs to local residents, visitors, and native plants and animal communities, efforts are underway to protect and restore both the quality and quantity of water that discharges from these springs. The Suwannee River Water Management District is currently gathering data and developing models for the Minimum Flows and Levels (MFL) for these springs; the MFL is planned to be set in 2013. Concurrent with this process, the Department of Environmental Protection is working with stakeholders to develop a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) to correct the nitrate impairment in this portion of the Santa Fe River.
The BMAP will build on the efforts of the existing Santa Fe River Springs working group, coordinated by Alachua County and composed of local governments, businesses, and residents of the area. The participants in the working group have been active in identifying sources of nitrate pollution to the springs, impacts on the plant and animal life, and means of restoring the springs to their natural condition.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Ground Water and Springs Protection Section
Rick Hicks, PGAdministrator
Contact for springs information
Santa Fe River Springs Working Group
Stacie Greco, Alachua County Environmental Protection Department
Phone: (352) 264-6829
Contact for Information on working group and restoration activities
Middle & Lower Suwannee River and Santa Fe River Basin Management Action Plans
Terry Hansen, Basin Coordinator
Phone: (850) 245-8561
Contact for: Information on TMDL and BMAP development and implementation
- Suwannee River Water Management District
- Suwannee River Partnership
- Alachua County
- Florida Department of Agriculture, Office of Water Policy
- Think About Personal Pollution
- Florida Geological Survey
- US Geological Survey
- Florida's water: ours to protect
Citizen Stakeholder and Watershed Organizations
- Save our Suwannee
- Our Santa Fe
- Howard T. Odum Springs Institute
- Current Problems
- Florida Native Plant Society
- Tri-County springs promise, Rotary Club
- Alachua Conservation Trust
Parks and Conservation Areas
Local Government and Water Resource Agencies