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Wakulla Spring

Wakulla Spring is one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, in addition to being a natural treasure within Florida.

The majestic Wakulla Spring is located only 20 miles south of Tallahassee, within the Woodville Karst Plain. The spring is in the headwater of the Wakulla River, which flows about 9 miles to the confluence with the St. Marks River. It has an average discharge of over 250 million gallons per day, with a nearly constant water temperature of 69F. The large spring vent lies 185 ft below the surface of the water.

Image of Cypress tree at sunset on Wakulla River.Cypress tree at sunset on Wakulla River. © Russell Sparkman

Wakulla Spring and the upper three miles of the Wakulla River are managed by the state of Florida within the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. Sally Ward Spring, No Name Spring, and other unnamed springs contribute to the Wakulla River. The section of the Wakulla River within the park is as close to the primeval condition as can be found for a system of this type. The abundant plant life and density and variety of fish, aquatic reptiles and birds attest to the productivity of the spring and river. The forest along the sides of the river host 11 species of state champion trees and 2 species of national champion trees.

The water that discharges at Wakulla Spring from the Floridan aquifer system was historically known for its clarity. Glass bottom boats would take visitors over the spring to peer down 125 feet to the limestone ledge of the spring, where they could see large schools of fish and mastodon bones brought up from the depth by early divers. Movies with underwater scenes, such as Creature from the Black Lagoon and Airport 77, were filmed here due to the clear water and natural setting.

Wakulla Spring is connected to a massive underwater cave system. Divers have investigated these underground connections in Leon and Wakulla counties for many years, which has been very difficult because of its ~300 foot depth. The Wakulla -Leon Sinks Cave system is the longest mapped underwater cave in the United States and the fourth largest mapped underwater cave in the world. In December 2007, divers from the Woodville Karst Plain Project set two world records here: the longest cave dive between two entrances (nearly 7 miles) and the longest traverse in a deep cave.

The Wakulla -Leon Sinks Cave system is the longest mapped underwater cave in the United States and the fourth largest mapped underwater cave in the world

In addition, research has shed light on other groundwater and surface water connections within the springshed. A dye trace study confirmed that water from Lake Munson, south of Tallahassee, that “disappears” in Ames Sink actually travels underground and re-emerges at Wakulla Spring, eight miles away, in less than 3 weeks. Dye injected at the City of Tallahassee’s wastewater sprayfield showed that the groundwater under that site travels to the spring, about 11 miles away, in ~ 60 days.

Image of Researchers release a harmless dye into Ame Sink located eight miles north of Wakulla Spring. The study determined that polluted stormwater from the City of Tallahassee was traveling underground to Wakulla Spring.Zoom+ Researchers release a harmless dye into Ame Sink located eight miles north of Wakulla Spring. The study determined that polluted stormwater from the City of Tallahassee was traveling underground to Wakulla Spring.

Human Impacts

Wakulla Spring is impacted by both urban development in Tallahassee and rural development in surrounding areas. The nitrate level in the water is elevated, the water clarity is decreased and the plants and animals have changed.

For more than 60 years, Lake Munson received stormwater runoff and high nutrient treated sewage effluent from Tallahassee. The treated sewage discharge was eliminated in 1984, when the city finished the construction of its sprayfield. However, runoff continues to flow into Lake Munson, eventually entering the groundwater through Ames Sink, contributing to increased nutrient levels in the spring.

The city of Tallahassee's Southwest Farm Wastewater Reuse Facility (sprayfield) has been identified as a principal source of that nitrate in the groundwater that flows to the spring. Fertilizer use and thousands of septic tanks in Wakulla and Leon counties are also sources of nitrates.

Some periods of dark water in the spring are natural, due to dissolved organic matter in the blackwater streams of the Apalachicola National Forest. However, the frequency and intensity of dark water has increased dramatically over the last 30 years. Glass bottom boats rarely run these days due to the dark water in the spring.

Invasive aquatic vegetation is also a problem in Wakulla Spring and river.

Image of Hydrilla is an invasive aquatic plant that is not native to Florida.Zoom+ Hydrilla is an invasive aquatic plant that is not native to Florida. © Bob Thompson

This system has been invaded by Hydrilla, an exotic aquatic plant, which can rapidly spread and grow over the native eel-grasses. Hydrilla was not present in the spring or river before 1997. Control efforts using herbicides by DEP staff have reduced, but not fully eliminated, this exotic infestation.

There has also been a complete disappearance of the limpkin population along the Wakulla River. The absence of this state-listed wading bird is related to the disappearance of apple snails, a primary food source.

In recognition of these impacts, FDEP, the Northwest Florida Water Management District and local governmental, scientific, educational, and citizen organizations participate in the Wakulla Spring Working Group to develop a plan to restore and protect water quality, water quantity, and the spring ecosystem.

News about Wakulla Springs

IMPORTANT NEWS. Due to reductions in State budget, we regret that FDEP will not be able to fund the Wakulla Springs working group in the upcoming year. Click the file below for more information:

Download Working group letter

Working group letter - 87.6KB

Wakulla Spring Working Group

The Wakulla Spring Working Group met quarterly to better understand the biology, ecology, hydrology, and geology of the spring, its impairments, and how a variety of stakeholders can work together to protect and restore Wakulla Spring through both individual and collective actions.

Below is the March, 2011 quarterly report on the meetings and activities associated with the working group and the restoration plan for Wakulla Spring.

Wakulla Springs Working Group 3rd Quarter 2011 Report

Download Wakulla WG 3rd Qtr Report

Wakulla WG 3rd Qtr Report - 1.0MB
Wakulla Springs Working Group 3rd Quarter 2011 Report

Presentations from the March 3, 2011 working group meeting

Download Wakulla WG Mar 3 2011 Davis

Wakulla WG Mar 3 2011 Davis - 4.5MB
Presentation by Hal Davis of USGS

Download Wakulla WG Mar 3 2011 Kish

Wakulla WG Mar 3 2011 Kish - 2.2MB
Presentation on Water Clarity at Wakulla Springs by Kish (FSU)

Download Wakulla WG Mar 3 2011 WSI

Wakulla WG Mar 3 2011 WSI - 722.1KB
Presentation by Wetland Solutions Inc for the Wakulla Springs working group meeting

Download Wakulla WG Mar 3 2011 Kulakowski

Wakulla WG Mar 3 2011 Kulakowski - 7.0MB
Presentation on water color at Wakulla Springs by Zoe Kulakowski

Wakulla County Septic System report

A team of researchers from Florida State University and Department of Environmental Protection studied the effectiveness of conventional septic systems and performance-based septic treatment systems (PBTS) in the Wakulla Spring springshed. They found that effluent from the PBTS did not achieve the anticipated level of 10 mg/L, but was significantly lower than the effluent from conventional systems.

Read the full report on Phase II of this study.

Lake Munson discovery

A drawdown of Lake Munson was started in October 2010 as part of a lake restoration plan. After most of the water in the lake receded into the original slough, an old canoe was found in the muck. Archeologists and researchers were able to retrieve the canoe and remove it for safe keeping while they study it for clues about its age and who made it and used it to navigate these waters.

Image of Map Key showing springhead and spring recharge area

*Wakulla Spring Springshed and Recharge Area

This map shows the 1,569 square mile springshed or spring recharge area where rainfall enters the ground and flows through the aquifer toward Wakulla Spring. The horizontal blue line represents the border between Florida and Georgia. It does not represent a hyrdologic boundary or divide.

The area extending south of downtown Tallahassee to the Gulf of Mexico is known as the Woodville Karst Plain where the limestone aquifer is very shallow and the landscape is dotted with sinkholes. The aquifer here is highly vulnerable to pollutants on the land surface. These pollutants -- fertilizers and pesticides, human waste from faulty septic systems, treated wastewater, animals wastes and stormwater runoff -- can harm the quality of water in the aquifer, the source of drinking water and water flowing to Wakulla Spring.

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.

Download Springshed Data Qualification/ Disclaimer

Springshed Data Qualification/ Disclaimer - 10.3KB

Flash required to view: Discovery of canoe during Lake Munson drawdown - This slideshow depicts finding the exposed old canoe and removing it from the lake bottom to a more secure location for scientific investigation.

Discovery of canoe during Lake Munson drawdown

A drawdown of Lake Munson was started in October 2010 to expose and consolidate the muck substrate. When the water receeded from the lake bottom, flowing only through the slough channel, this canoe became exposed.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Ground Water and Springs Protection

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

St. Marks Watershed Restoration Program

Stephen Cioccia, Basin Coordinator
Phone: (850)245-8513
Contact for: Information on TMDL and BMAP development and implementation

Cal Jamison, Springs Ambassador
Phone: (850)509-4814
Contact for spring basin information and sinkhole inventories

Other Government and Water Resource Agencies

Citizen Stakeholder and Watershed Organizations

Other public managed lands

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Florida-Friendly Landscaping

Image of The Interactive Yard is an educational tool designed to teach basic concepts behind Florida-Friendly Landscaping.

Landscape without polluting the aquifer and springs by reducing fertilizer and pesticide use and saving water.

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