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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.


Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Ground Water and Springs Protection

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


St. Marks Watershed Restoration Program

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


Cal Jamison, Springs Ambassador
Phone: (850)509-4814
Email
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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