Featured Stories

Longleafs and Climate Change, a modern tale of David and Goliath


By Carley Reynolds


With ecosystems and societies around the world anticipating—or already facing—the consequences of climate change, the US Southeast may find an unlikely hero in a disappearing native tree: the longleaf pine.

These towering pine species once dominated the region as far north as Virginia and as far west as Texas.  Now, only 3% of its historic range remains.  Centuries of human development, timber production, and disturbance of their fire regime have drastically impacted the longleaf pine.  But despite their past rapid decline, climate scientists and ecologists expect longleafs will emerge as some of the strongest survivors of a warming world – and some of the best-able to help communities cope with the effects of climate change. Longleaf pines are better adapted to handle more extreme precipitation patterns, severe storms, pest infestations, and fire than other southeastern species, according to a 2009 report from the National Wildlife Foundation.

One of the most remarkable features of longleaf pines is their habitat diversity. If you were to tell someone “Take me to see a longleaf pine,” you might find yourself in any multitude of different landscapes. Longleafs grow in widely varying environments—from Alabama mountainsides to wet flatwoods to dry sandhills.

Already adapted to a wide range of landscapes, longleaf pines are expected to hold up better against a future of prolonged and intensified droughts and floods.

Longleafs also have a considerable track record for surviving severe storms and hurricanes.  After Katrina devastated the Gulf in 2005, researchers in Mississippi evaluated the damage, finding mostly healthy longleaf among the carnage of two other pines native to the slash and loblolly pines.  Compared with robust longleaf, skinny but fast-growing slash and loblolly pines suffered. The researchers found that 64% of longleaf were unaffected while only 52% of slash and 16% of loblolly survived unscathed.  Longleaf not only had less affected trees, but also less intense damage.  Slash and loblollies often snapped mid-stem. The longleaf damage was little more than leaning.  In terms of timber production, a snapped stem means a major loss in value.

Climate change is also expected to exacerbate damage from pests, particularly the southern pine beetle, which has already cost the United States hundreds of millions of dollars in economic . With warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, the beetle’s range will most likely expand.  Longleaf pines are significantly less susceptible to infestation than other species.  Planting the more resilient species could  lessen the extreme losses.

Maintaining Longleafs, Mitigating Carbon

This winter, the Florida Forest Service (FFS) broke a record.  Over two days in January, a team of 60 foresters managed the largest controlled burn ever carried out at Goethe State Park — 12,345 acres.  The massive park covers 53,587 acres itself and contains the largest contiguous tract of longleaf pine in Florida.

Prescribed burning is a management tool used to maintain forest health, promote biodiversity and reduce the risk of dangerous wildfires. Without fire, woody plants like laurel oaks move in and compete with the herbaceous plants like grasses native to these fire adapted ecosystems. “Frequent fire in effect mows down broadleaf woody plants,” says Kevin Robertson, fire ecology scientist at Tall Research Station. This allows more sunlight into the canopy and brings about a more diverse ecosystem.

Even considering these benefits, setting thousands of acres of forest on fire hardly seems like a sensible way to combat carbon emissions. Burning releases carbon stored in trees and other organic matter found in forests. But, counter-intuitive as it sounds, prescribed burning reduces emissions in the long run.

When forests go unburned for a long time, fuel accumulates.  These conditions lead to higher-intensity, more-dangerous forest fires. Regular burning reduces the build-up of flammable materials and results in less-severe fires.

These milder fires creep through the understory, leaving some vegetation intact.  High intensity wildfires scorch the landscape, often killing even the most fire-adapted species.  Prescribed burning reduces the risk of these dangerous and destructive wildfires that spew out significantly more climate-warming carbon.  A study from Northern Arizona University found that prescribed burning reduces carbon emissions 18 percent to 25 percent on average – and sometimes as much as 60 percent.

The longleafs themselves also store more carbon, far longer than their scrawnier counterparts.  Through photosynthesis, plants take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in until they die.

Longleafs outlive both slash and loblolly pines.  Archaic stands of old-growth longleaf can have pines as old as 450 years, twice the lifespan of their young brothers.  For the first 120 years, the trees take in and store more carbon than they release from natural mortality.  After they die, longleafs also release carbon at a slower rate due to the higher quality of their wood.

Planting more longleaf pines would tie up more carbon, reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Moving Forward: The Future of Longleafs

As the longleaf’s advantages have emerged, scientists and policymakers have launched significant efforts to protect and expand their forests. The Obama Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative of 2010 created the Longleaf Stewardship Fund, bringing together funding from private and public groups to protect longleaf pines.

New carbon policies may serve as a welcome ally to restoration efforts as well.

Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, was passed with the intention of reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.  One aspect of AB 32 allows companies to offset their emissions by investing in projects that reduce carbon in the atmosphere, including investing in southeastern pine plantations.

That  could mean more longleafs. AB 32 requires forest and plantation used to offset carbon emissions to be diverse.  Specifically, they can’t be comprised of more than 70% of a single species.  Since either slash or loblolly pines generally dominate plantations, companies will have to include other species in their stands.  “We’re hoping the other 30% will be longleaf,” says Robert Abernethy, president of the Alabama-based Longleaf Alliance.

While longleaf pines have immense potential to adapt to climate change, research continues to investigate the long-term fate of these southeastern icons.  With conditions changing rapidly on a geologic time scale, species must either adapt to their new environments or migrate as their distribution range shifts—the more likely option.  Unfortunately for trees, they can’t pick up and move all that easily.

Foresters with the Nature Conservancy have started experimenting with the “assisted migration” of longleafs.  This means introducing the pines to potentially favorable regions.  The researchers planted twenty  acres of pine seedlings in Maryland, just north of their natural range.  One year later, they conducted a prescribed burn, maintaining a healthy environment for the young seedlings.  While the team dubbed the burn a success, conclusions on the future home of longleafs and the viability of assisted migration will take time.

Conserving and restoring longleaf isn’t only sensible as a climate change adaptation strategy, but also from economic and ecological perspectives.

The prolonged dormant grass stage of longleafs and difficulties with regeneration have lead timber producers to typically favor raising slash pine in the south and loblolly pine in the north.  However, improvements in longleaf planting and growing techniques have made them a viable contender for the industry.  For example, planting seedlings initially sowed in containers over bare-root seedlings has increased the success of establishment and can even reduce the time to initial growth.  Longleaf stands also produce higher quality timber.  The straight, durable trunks of longleaf can more often sell as pole timber, a highly valued wood product.  Resilience to pest infestation and damage from storms also reduce risk of economic loss.

Investing in longleaf ecosystems would also bring relief to a rich community of animals and plants.  Many threatened and endangered species rely on longleaf pine habitat such as the red cockaded woodpecker, the gopher tortoise, and the flatwoods salamander.

While climate change will undoubtedly stress ecosystems—including longleaf—the resilient pine is the contender to watch in a world that will be forced to adapt.


Lenses and love: The art of saving Florida’s springs

By Jennifer Adler


Green: the color of springtime leaves, the flowing saw grass of the Everglades. It’s synonymous with nature, outdoors, and perhaps recycling – and also the most recent addition to Margaret Ross Tolbert’s palette.

green algae at blue spring

As algae took hold, Margaret Tolbert started using more greens in her paintings. Beneath the surface, algae now dominates many springs.

Fanning Spring was Tolbert’s favorite place to paint. She would immerse herself in its crystal waters and spend hours by the Suwannee River spring, painting life-sized canvases of vibrant color depicting the surreal spring at her feet and the feeling of being underwater. For many years, she studied at Fanning, launching an exhibit at Northwest Florida College in 1997, made up of 11-foot-tall paintings boasting bright blues and liquid light.

But over time, she began using more greens.

“I was so pleased I developed a new formal vocabulary using colors… like green,” Tolbert remembered. French painter Toulouse Lautrec used a lot of greens in his studies, so she thought it was interesting that she was doing the same. But in Tolbert’s case, the color change signified something greater: degrading springs.

“It turned out I was just painting what I saw – new and luridly green colors of burgeoning algae.” Her palette had shifted as the algae took hold.

Margaret Tolbert's 1997 exhibit "Portals and Passages" at The Arts Center, Northwest Florida College, Niceville, Florida. Photo by Jack Gardner.

Margaret Tolbert’s 1997 exhibit “Portals and Passages” at The Arts Center, Northwest Florida College, Niceville, Florida. Photo by Jack Gardner.


To the trained and untrained eye alike, many of Florida’s 1,000-plus springs still sparkle. From swirling ‘fire water’ overhead to brilliant blues and gin-clear underwater caves, they are remarkable to see and explore. But over the past 15 to 20 years, overwhelming amounts of algae have come to dominate many of the once-clear springs.

Despite their decline, many springs are still remarkable. At Ginnie Springs, divers marvel at the swirling 'fire water' above Devil's Ear. Tannic water from the Santa Fe swirls with clear spring water to create this otherworldly effect.

Despite their decline, many springs are still remarkable. At Ginnie Springs, divers marvel at the swirling ‘fire water’ above Devil’s Ear. Tannic water from the Santa Fe swirls with clear spring water to create this otherworldly effect.

One of the two main types of algae, Vaucheria, is a green algae, while the other, Lyngbya, is a cyanophyte that forms dense, brown mats. Scientists began to study the shift in vegetation when the Florida Springs Task Force was created in 1999, and managers have since scrambled to make positive changes. But it’s a tricky problem to explain, especially to the majority of Floridians who have never seen a spring, and it has proven an even more difficult problem to solve.

As scientists analyze water samples and study groundwater flow, another group of keen observers has also recorded the changes in spring ecosystems. Theirs is a beautiful yet heartbreaking mélange of artistic output, serving as a visual history of the springs and their decline. It may also turn out to be one of the best routes to saving them.

Art, politics, and the river of grass

“This idea that swamps and wetlands are these dangerous, spooky places only worth draining isn’t a new idea – this is something that’s pervaded centuries of our being here,” says Mac Stone, a conservation photographer who recently published a book about the Everglades.

Long seen as a wasteland of uninhabitable swamp, the Everglades is now a World Heritage Site, a wetland of international importance. Photographer Clyde Butcher helped instigate this dramatic shift in ideology; he ventured into the storied swamp and returned with photographs that changed people’s perceptions of the Everglades.

Clyde Butcher Everglades

Photographer Clyde Butcher brings the Everglades and other wild Florida landscapes to people through large-format black and white photos. Butcher hopes these photos will inspire people to go visit these places themselves and perhaps fall in love with these amazing ecosystems. This photo, “Ochopee,” is one of Butcher’s popular photographs of the Everglades. Photo courtesy of Clyde Butcher.

“One of the problems that we have is that people do not leave the city, they do not feel safe in nature,” says Butcher. “Using photography, we can get them introduced to these natural wonders and maybe they’ll go visit.”

Through large-format black and white prints, he has brought the Everglades to “people who would never have dreamed of setting a polished Italian loafer in the swamp…,” write Tom Shroder and John Barry in the Butcher biography Seeing the Light. Because of Butcher’s photos, these loafer-wearing Floridians began to care, and as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “declared a war on swamps,” Butcher brought the picturesque wetland to people’s living room walls.

The power of pictures

Like the swamp under siege, changes in the struggling springs have become political. Bipartisan environmental issues and newspaper headlines depicting war are common: environmentalists versus government, state government versus federal government. Battles over water quality criteria and numeric nutrient standards have plagued courthouses and Florida Department of Environmental Protection meetings like algae plague the springs.

“Water is inextricable from politics in Florida – no matter how true your message is with words, they’re laden with bias,” says nature photographer John Moran. “Photos have no baggage. There’s something undeniable about the power of these pictures,” he added.

This is one of the reasons Moran and artist Lesley Gamble started the Springs Eternal Project. The exhibit portion of the project highlights Moran’s ‘then and now’ springs photos, which have grabbed the eyes and won the hearts of viewers statewide. Moran’s archives date back to 1973, the year he started college at the University of Florida – also the year he bought his first nice camera, a Nikkormat with a 50mm lens. Pairing photos from the 70s – 90s with those from more recent adventures (post 2000), Moran now brings the before-and-after reality of the springs to museums, living room walls, and university buildings. He even puts them in the hands of politicians.

then and now ichetucknee john moran

John Moran’s powerful “Then & Now” photographs have been incredibly influential in  both public opinion and political endeavors. The Springs Eternal exhibit features several “Then & Now” comparisons, this one in particular demonstrating the loss of native submerged aquatic vegetation at Devil’s Eye spring on the Ichetucknee River. Photo courtesy of John Moran / Springs Eternal Project.

“It’s pretty apparent that the Springs Eternal project, along with a whole host of other players, made a meaningful difference not necessarily in terms of outcomes but changing what the candidates are talking about,” says Moran.

He is currently traveling throughout Florida spreading his springs gospel and sharing his photos from the past 40 years that document the decline of the springs in a way that immediately grabs peoples’ attention.

Moran’s Springs Eternal cofounder, Gamble, has a PhD in art history and teaches a University of Florida course called ‘Water, Art, and Ecology.’ She spearheaded the other two projects that round out Springs Eternal, including the Urban Aquifer and the project’s website.

Her blue-green eyes flicker with excitement as she shares her insights about the power of art: “Art can reach people at levels that are not rational, obvious or conscious,” she explains. “Art can offer viewers agency; they figure out for themselves how they want to respond (or not) to the artwork, to the sensations, emotions, or ideas that emerge in that interaction.”

This is exactly what Tolbert hopes to achieve with her paintings.

Entering the Springs (2006, oil and mixed media on canvas, 90 x 90 inches), photo by Randy Batista

Artist Margaret Tolbert’s immersive paintings elicit curiosity and wonder. This is “Entering the Springs,” one of Tolbert’s life-sized canvases that engages viewers and invites them to jump in.  [Oil and mixed media on canvas, 90 x 90 inches, 2006.] Photo by Randy Batista.

Perched on her living room couch, Tolbert is practically underwater. Surrounded by her larger-than-life canvases, she appears to be immersed in a spring, this particular one an 11 x 11 foot painting of a spring in Turkey, as she explains the idea of how springs-related art may make people more willing to accept ideas: “The spring kind of flips your expectations of what’s far and what’s near… I like doing that in the painting,” she says. “It’s like making someone listen to a song – if they start being surprised by what sensations they get from the painting then they question their own existence and they are open to more things… it puts you in a space of curiosity and acceptance.”

This empowerment of viewers – a personal journey through the painting that elicits curiosity and acceptance – may prove powerful for helping people understand issues surrounding springs, including the direct connection between the springs and their backyard irrigation or fertilizer use.

Shifting baselines

The same problem that Clyde Butcher confronted in the Everglades affects the springs today: some photos are “too pretty” to show the degradation. Free of a picturesque vision of springs in their apparent former glory, it’s a challenge to communicate the idea that the springs have changed because many are still gorgeous, despite the algae.

The scientific term for this is “shifting baselines,” first coined in 1995 by fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly in a scientific paper published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Basically, chronic, slow changes occurring in an ecosystem over time can be difficult to notice. Because these changes go unnoticed at first, the original condition (or “baseline”) is shifted and it’s hard to evaluate how much an ecosystem has suffered. If people have never seen a spring, it makes this concept even more difficult. In many springs, there is currently very little natural vegetation remaining. But to a first-time visitor, this is their “normal.”

Moran recounts the story of a couple that escaped the south Florida sprawl to get married at the secluded Ichetucknee River, the place Archie Carr famously named “the most beautiful landscape in the world” in his book A Naturalist in Florida. Moran took photos of the couple in the headspring, noting that they were very much in love and engulfed by the beauty of the spring, having never seen one before. He struggled with the idea of confronting these blissful lovebirds to tell them that they missed the spring when it actually looked pretty. He couldn’t bear to tell them that the spring’s algae-laden waters were nothing compared to how they looked before 2000. So he did something else.

“I didn’t want to be the one to burst their bubble,” he says. “But I juxtaposed the pictures of them with an identical photo from 20 years ago and it makes for a pretty compelling comparison shot.” Using these ‘before and after’ comparisons, he can let audiences see for themselves how the springs have changed.

Tolbert feels similarly conflicted when people think a degraded spring is magnificent. “I don’t really say that much… I might show them the old pictures,” she says. “It’s hard to stand there and say ‘well, it used to look better’…” It’s challenging to get across the idea that many springs are only greenish shades of their former selves.

Nature photographer Mac Stone, who has seen the splendor and suffering of the Everglades firsthand, says it’s a fine line: “You’ve got to show the beauty of it but you’ve also got to show the maybe not so pleasing side. If you’re constantly shooting to put photos up on people’s walls, then you’re not telling a story… it’s not all sunshine and rainbows,” he explained. “But you’ve got to have a balance of both or you won’t get people on board to listen to you.”

And despite the sad state of some springs and parts of the Everglades, Stone says there are still a lot of pretty photos to be taken: “… you have to give them reason to celebrate too, and there is plenty of reason to celebrate.”

Gamble agrees: “We need to enjoy what we do have, honor and celebrate the springs as unique and truly ‘wondrous.’” But there’s a caveat: “The additional pressure with springs issues is that we’re short on time,” she added. So where do we go from here?

Splashing forward

When Carleton Watkins piled his bulky cameras and giant glass slides on mules and trekked 75 miles into Yosemite in 1861, he returned with photos that changed the future of the remote valley. His photographs offered many Easterners their first glimpse of Yosemite, which then became an icon, an extraordinary place people wanted to visit and preserve. When the photos made their way into President Abraham Lincoln’s hands, they influenced his decision to sign the Yosemite Valley Grant Act in 1864; the creation of the National Parks system followed shortly thereafter.

After Watkins, the celebrated work of Ansel Adams also influenced legislation, along with the public’s relationship with nature and wilderness. During his 37 years on the Sierra Club board (1934-71), Adams and his photos made their way to Washington D.C. and piqued the interest of policymakers, playing a key role in several decisions, including the designation of Kings Canyon National Park in 1941.

Bruce Mozert photo, University Press of Florida

Bruce Mozert’s pioneering underwater photographs garnered national attention for the springs, beginning in the 1940s. Photo courtesy of University Press of Florida.

Many miles southeast in Florida, Bruce Mozert was busy crafting some of the first underwater cameras. He arrived at Silver Springs in 1948 and produced black and white images of air-clear Silver Springs. His famous photos of people doing everyday activities underwater – from mowing the lawn to drinking champagne or having a barbeque – generated national publicity for the springs, attracting tourists and celebrities to their clear waters.

More recently, Carlton Ward pioneered a 1000-mile journey through wild Florida: The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. The resulting photos and documentary remind Floridians that wild Florida still exists; despite rampant development, it is still possible to venture from the Everglades up to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and never set foot in a subdivision or patch of St. Augustine grass. Additionally, his cattle ranching photography has brought people together from opposing ends of the political spectrum for land preservation in central Florida.

With their paintbrushes and lenses, their passion and creativity, artists of all types have played integral roles in saving those places that inspire their work. From Yellowstone to the Everglades, the history of artists showing audiences why natural icons are worth saving offers hope for the future of the springs – especially given the numbers of talented artists at work to show them to Floridians.

“It’s going to take a bunch of different mediums,” says Stone. “It’s going to take poets, it’s going to take writers, it’s going to take photographers, filmmakers. It’s going to take a whole society to make the sea change,” he says. “And we are. We are doing it, slowly.”

From Street View to Springs View

Google’s “street view” has moved into wild Florida. First came “ocean view,” next up: “spring view” – with manatees.


By Jennifer Adler  

CRYSTAL RIVER: On a serene recent morning at Three Sisters Springs, a half-dozen motionless manatees seemed to sleep in as the late-rising sun cast an orange glow on the fog.

Barely visible through the trees, manatees rest motionlessly in the closed spring at dawn.

Barely visible through the trees, manatees rest motionlessly in the closed spring at dawn.

“We have a beautiful gift here,” said Tom Gotterup, vice president of the Friends of Crystal River, as he stood in his neon-yellow vest on the boardwalk surrounding the calm, gin-clear spring. The glassy water and the quiet were interrupted only by the occasional loud and startling exhale of a manatee, lifting large nostrils barely above water to take a long breath.

Meanwhile at the end of the spring run, the first pontoon boat of the day cautiously pulled up and unloaded excited tourists floating on pool noodles in every color of the rainbow. This was only the beginning. As the sun rose, so did the number of boats and noodle-riding visitors flocking to see the manatees.

In 2014 alone, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge attracted 319,625 visitors, about three times the total population of Citrus County. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 83% of these visitors plunged into the water, making it the most visited in-water refuge in the country.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also found that the number of visitors to the Crystal River refuge has tripled between 2009 and 2014. Gotterup said such crowds are becoming difficult to handle for the park and its staff. “Everybody is inundated and overwhelmed,” he said.

Excited visitors float on pool noodles at the edge of the sanctuary, eager to catch a glimpse of the manatees on the other side of the rope.

Excited visitors float on pool noodles at the edge of the sanctuary, eager to catch a glimpse of the manatees on the other side of the rope.

Gotterup attributes much of the uptick to media coverage last year that included an article in National Geographic, coverage by CNN and a visit from a German film crew. “The question is how do we handle it,” he said. “How do we protect it and also offer the public the opportunity to interact with it like they have in the past?”

Technology may provide part of the answer. Beginning in April, people worldwide will have instant access to the famed destination via a 360-degree underwater virtual tour, accessible through Google’s street view interface.

David Ulloa, president of Trident Global Imaging, shoots photos for the virtual tour at Three Sisters Springs. For more photos and a behind-the-scenes view of the shoot, check out the slideshow at the bottom of the page.

David Ulloa, president of Trident Global Imaging, shoots photos for the virtual tour at Three Sisters Springs. For more photos and a behind-the-scenes view of the shoot, check out the slideshow at the bottom of the page.

Sponsored by the local group Friends of Crystal River and produced by Trident Global Imaging, the tour will consist of 25 individual, 360-degree images, called “photo spheres,” woven into an underwater immersive experience. Instead of dropping down to a street view at the Crystal River City Hall with its life-sized manatee statue at the entrance, users will be able to explore underwater with the manatees in Three Sisters Springs. They’ll even be able to use their mouse to navigate areas usually off-limits to swimmers.

The tour will serve as more than just a fun new portal into the springs. Education is the main goal. Gotterup, as well as Friends of Crystal River president Ross Knudsen and secretary Shirley Knudsen, all hope that the tour will bring the underwater world to more people.

Gotterup said the idea is to “help people appreciate these beautiful creatures” and also demonstrate how to properly interact with the manatees. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist joined the film crew in the water to model the best way to interact with the manatees, such as keeping a distance of six to ten feet.

Online users will be able to navigate areas of the spring that are often off-limits to swimmers due to their status as manatee sanctuaries.

Online users will be able to navigate areas of the spring that are often off-limits to swimmers due to their status as manatee sanctuaries.

Ivan Vicente of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the virtual tour will “showcase what happens underwater… and reach out to people across the world and help them realize the connection between springs and manatees.”

While he said some people argue the virtual tour has the potential to help with visitor overcrowding, he disagrees and believes that it will most likely attract even more people to swim with the manatees. He said it will also give people who have already visited a chance to compare and contrast the virtual tour with their own experience, which is often characterized by cloudy, crowded conditions on busy days.

Vicente thinks the virtual tour will tie in well with initiatives to educate people about springs ecosystems, ecology, manatee populations and topics such as freshwater quality and quantity. He hopes the tour will help generate support and advocacy after people see what it’s really like underwater and “witness the magic” themselves.

Visit the Friends of Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex Inc. and the USFWS’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge websites at the end of April 2015 to view the virtual tour. In the meantime, dive in to some of Trident Global Imaging’s other underwater tours in Florida springs such as Silver Glen Springs and Rainbow Springs.

Screenshot of the “Google Views” interface. This is Ulloa’s photo sphere of the Natural Well at Silver Glen Springs. Users can navigate the underwater world and virtually swim with over 500 striped bass and a cave diver.

Screenshot of the “Google Views” interface. This is Ulloa’s photo sphere of the Natural Well at Silver Glen Springs. Users can navigate the underwater world and virtually swim with over 500 striped bass and a cave diver.

Behind the Scenes

Shooting for the tour is currently under way, and I recently joined Trident Global Imaging’s David Ulloa and Dee McHenry for the second day of in-water action at Three Sisters Springs. Check out this slideshow for a behind-the-scenes sneak peek of a day in the water with the Trident Global Imaging team as they shoot photos for the underwater virtual tour at Three Sisters Springs.

Photos (c) Jennifer Adler Photography

Water Efficient Irrigation

Joe Floyd is one of four co-owners of Abundant Edible Landscapes. From fruit trees to rainwater collection systems, the company provides several services to homeowners who would like to develop their landscape with environmentally conscious features.

In this interview, Floyd talks what irrigations systems could cut down your water bill in the long run, why you should stay away from imported plants, and how growing your own produce cannot only save you water, but also gas and money.

The Future of Building: Inside a Net-Zero Water School

On a grassy tract of land nestled in Lutz, Fla., alternative learning practices have become the norm at  Learning Gate Community School. In 2009 Learning Gate was the first public school to be awarded the U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum certification. The school focuses its curriculum on energy and water conservation, and serves as a nationwide model for future innovative and educational buildings.

Water Permits in Profile: The Adena Springs Controversy

A request by Adena Springs Ranch, near Fort McCoy, Fla., to withdraw 13.2 million gallons a day from the Floridan Aquifer is being challenged by hundreds of people in north central Florida.

Owners of the 30,000-acre cattle ranch have applied to the St. Johns River Water Management District to pump more water daily than the 12 million gallons that the city of Ocala withdraws for public use.

The application is currently in the hands of the water management district for review.

Supporters of the project say that it will create local jobs and provide a clean industry for Marion County. Adena Springs Ranch wants the volume of water to irrigate land to raise grass-fed cattle.

Audience Adena Springs Ranch Forum

Audience at the April 3 public forum at the Ewers Century Center Klein Conference Room at College of Central Florida on water consumption and the Adena Springs Ranch permit.

Those against the project, as well as those who would like to see the consumptive use permit limit decreased, packed an auditorium at College of Central Florida in Ocala in early April to learn more about the impact of a planned beef operation that includes a slaughterhouse and packing plant. The meeting was organized by the Silver River Alliance, which formed in January 2012 to protect the heritage river and its first magnitude springs. Alliance members and area residents are concerned about the effect Adena Springs Ranch will have on water quality and quantity in the Silver River watershed, which stretches from Leesburg to Melrose and encompasses parts of Ocala National Forest and the Ocklawaha and Silver rivers. ?When I first heard about the grass-fed cattle proposal,? said Diana Kanoy, who owns an adjacent 50 acres. ?It seemed an acceptable alternative if the land were not to be kept as a tree farm, or ideally, allowed to revert to its natural state as a water absorption and regeneration area and corridor for wildlife.? Kanoy became alarmed, she said, when she discovered the extent of the operation and the amount of water it could consume from the Floridan aquifer. The aquifer is a natural underground reservoir that stretches from Florida to South Carolina that supplies nearly 90 percent of Floridians with fresh drinking water. ?This request for vast water consumption forebodes the ominous possibility of our wells drying up, the lakes receding, and even the trees dying, turning our homes and small farms into wastelands, and destroying our work and dreams of pleasant and productive country life,? she said. Stress to Florida?s water supply has become a concern across the state. The Adena Springs Ranch permit request poses another impact on the already stressed aquifer system, panelist Bob Knight said. Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, said he is not opposed ?conceptually? to the cattle ranch, but that the water use request is excessive. The quantity of the water requested ?represents the most efficient use of water possible for the requested,? attorney Edward de la Parte said in an email response to questions about the project. Some believe the meat production facility, owned by Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach, is being built to take advantage of the lucrative market for grass-fed beef as more and people look for healthy and humane sources of food. Kanoy said some local residents see the ranch as a better alternative to other types of industry that might locate to Florida. Previous proposed use of the property, she said, included ?a paramilitary training camp? that the Marion County Zoning Commission rejected in 2008. In the midst of the current economic slowdown, Adena officials have pointed to jobs as a benefit of the facility, according to speakers at the meeting. Adena officials have estimated, in addition to the construction jobs, the facility will employee about 100 people. In permit requests filed with Marion County, Adena Ranch estimated its capital investment to be around $39 million.

Roy L. ?Robin? Lewis, panelist at the public forum about water consumption and the Adena Springs Ranch.

The operation has already received approval for slaughterhouse and meat processing facilities on one parcel where tree clearing and construction has begun. These activities were challenged in a letter to state officials from St. Petersburg attorney John Thomas on behalf of wetland expert Roy L. ?Robin? Lewis. Lewis?s four-page letter is supplemented by 31 pages of maps, tables, and charts that provide scientific and engineering data about why the Adena Springs Ranch will detrimental to Florida?s ecosystem, threatening springs and rivers as well as ground water quantity and quality. Stronach appears to have a voracious appetite for land, according to a story from the Canadian news publisher Macleans. He owns more than 70,000 acres around Ocala. With the huge commercial interest in water sales world-wide, a number of people at the meeting asked if the permit could be used for other purposes. If Adena wants to use the permit for something else, they will need to reapply, according to Mike Register, director for St. Johns River Water Management District Division Regulation Services. The permit would be valid for 20 years and with a 10-year compliance review, he added. The management district will likely approve the consumptive use permit, especially in the current political climate, Karen Ahlers said. Ahlers, a Putnam county resident, has retained the Southern Legal Counsel to monitor the permitting process and prepare for a lawsuit if necessary.
Karen Ahlers and Buddy McKay

Karen Ahlers, environmental activist; Debby Johnson, paralegal with Southern Legal Counsel; and Buddy McKay, former lieutenant governor and board member Southern Legal Counsel.

?I believe that we need the credible threat of a lawsuit,? which she said ?will encourage the district to do double duty to get it right.? Ahlers is a long-time activist for natural resources in Florida and has fought to restore the Ocklawaha River.

Adena Springs Ranch officials were invited to participate in the two-hour presentations and panel discussions, but declined according to moderator and president of the Silver Springs Alliance, Andy Kesselring. Present at the evening meeting were some members of the Marion County commission, as well as former Florida lieutenant governor Buddy McKay, a board member of the Southern Legal Counsel and a supporter of environmental issues in Florida. ?I am passionate about preserving Florida?s water,? said McKay, best remembered for his work to prevent stop the Cross Florida Barge with Marjorie Harris Carr. Lewis handed over a personal check for $5,000 to Neil Chonin of the Southern Legal Counsel to begin the support for legal action. Ahlers said about $250,000 are needed to monitor the approval process, gather scientific evidence of the negative impacts to water quality and quantity and to prepare a legal case should the permit be approved. ?The threat of a lawsuit and close scrutiny of the application process may be the only way to protect the interests of the public,? Ahlers said. ?We?re in this for the long haul. We will go forward until we have exhausted every legal remedy.? The challenge is not just drinking water, she said, but entire ecosystems. ?This is not just a Marion County issue. It is a statewide issue. A test of whether or not citizens of Florida are going to throw up their hands and allow corporate and political interests to destroy what is left of Florida?s natural resources,? Ahlers said.

Panel at Adena Springs Ranch Forum

Second group of panelists for the public forum about water consumption and the Adena Springs Ranch. From left to right: Mike Registers, St. Johns River Water Management District; Barbara Fitos, executive director Community Foundation for Ocala Marion County; Neil Chonin, environmental lawyer with Southern Justice Association; Roy L. ?Robin? Lewis, professional wetland scientist; Bob Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute; Guy Marwick, executive director of the Felburn Foundation, and Andy Kesselring, president of the Silver Springs Alliance.

Participants at the meeting asked if irrigation water would filter back to the aquifer. ?That?s not the way it works,? Knight said. Typical overhead irrigation systems lose about? 70 percent of the water to evaporation. Another 10 percent will probably runoff, he said, moving toward the Ocklawaha River, he said giving at rough estimate at that about 20 percent of the water applied would actually recharge the aquifer. ?But what do think a million pounds of cow manure a day will do to the aquifer?? Guy Marwick, panelist and executive director of the Felburn Foundation and founder of the Silver River Museum, said. Florida?s fresh water supply is already threatened by high levels of nitrates from commercial and natural fertilizer, which contaminate springs and possibly the aquifer, according to Knight. Scotty Peterson, a student from Vanguard High School and one of the two student board members of the Silver Springs Alliance, did not think too much of the employment promises by Adena Springs Ranch. Silver Springs alone generates an estimated $60 million a year in tourism and recreation, Kesselring told the audience. ?Consider risking $60 million for 100 jobs?? he said. ?I don?t think so.? Of the 700 comments received by the St. Johns River Water Management District, most have been opposed to the project or requested more information, according to Mike Register, director for Division Regulation Services. De le Parte, however, does not believe the comments represent a sampling of Marion County citizens. Marion County has [331,000] residents, and of the comments received only about 200 from those in the county. The other comments, however, are from people who live within the watershed affected by the projects, as well as from those concerned about drawdown of the Florida aquifer. ?Like many projects of this type, it is much easier for persons to oppose to organize and express concern,? De le Parte said. ?The applicant is convinced there are many more citizens in support of the projects.? A review of the district permitting application for the project turned up very few supportive comments. Marion County commission candidate Butch Verrando, said in an interview that he commended the project for its compatibility with the local environment, its commitment to raising grass-fed beef, and the jobs it will provide for Marion County residents. ?There?s a segment of the population here that wants to push ?ecotourism.? But that does not bring enough dollars to the area,? he said. ?Off-road bikes and kayaks will not pay the bills.? Marion County has a labor surplus and Fort McCoy especially is in need of employment opportunities, he said. Verrando said scientists who are speaking out against the project are ignoring the cycles of rainfall that are a part of Florida?s natural history, he said. Presenters at the meeting pointed to the ongoing drought in Florida as one of the reasons to deny the permit. De la Parte disagrees. ?Variability in rainfall has been the hallmark of Florida?s climate for the past century,? he said. While climate change and sea level rise are a matter of consensus, he said, ?some scientists have predicted an increase in the number and intensity of tropical storms, which would tend to increase rainfall in Florida.? Lawren Moody, a third-generation Ocala resident, supports the project and does not see the water permit as an issue. It ?may sound like a lot, but compared to what industry and agriculture use, it?s not? he said. Verrando determined the water withdrawal amounts to 441 gallons per acre. Mike Register, who spoke on behalf of the water management district said the agency will follow the rules for examining the permit and for reaching a decision on whether or not to grant it. The district is required to give first priority to human consumption of water and second priority to agriculture for human consumption, and so he believes the district has no choice but to grant the permit. Citizens, including Karen Ahlers, who has pledged to fight the permit, said they are willing to protest the permit at every legal opportunity. Register outlined the procedures in detail, including the criteria for denial, the appeal process, and the scientific investigation that will be done to determine if the project will impact water quantity or quality. Ahlers said an appeal of the process must be done within 21 days of determination of the permit request. That?s why, she said, it is important to be prepared.


Agriculture vs. Water: Bottling the Consumptive Question

The fact that water bottlers in Florida get free access to water they package and sell — and therefore make 100 percent profit on the materials — is often a sticking point for conservationists.

While giving away water bottling rights in a state expecting water shortages may seem to be the perfect illustration of bad water policy, it is worth taking a look at the actual consumption of the primary industries in the state that use water, industries like agriculture.

Water bottle companies have become an easy target for environmentalists because of their notorious use of plastic. But when agriculture’s use is brought into the picture, water consumption numbers may not appear as critics of the bottled water industry assume.

The total consumption of water for the agriculture industry statewide in 2005 was 2,766 million gallons per day, according to the 2005 state report, Water Withdrawls and Use. That is about 40 percent of the total water use in the state — for one industry.

Comparatively, Nestlé, the state’s largest private water bottler, was permitted to withdraw 2.7 million gallons per day, excluding the water rights it purchases, according to Nestlé Waters. In total Nestlé bottles about three million gallons a day.

Other companies like Coco-Cola, that bottled Dasani on the Santa Fe River, bottle anywhere from 600,000 to 800,000 gallons a day. The Coca-Cola plant has since closed because of the cost of fuel to ship from its location. However, the bottling permit still holds value and another company may decide to purchase it in the future.

There is no clear number for how many gallons of water are bottled in the state because those types of consumptive use permits are awarded through the five different water management districts.

A Need vs. A Luxury

Advocates like Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, president of the group Our Santa Fe River, have fought the expansion of the water bottle industry in the Suwannee River Water Management District for the past five years. The group has argued against those trying to open new bottling facilities on the Santa Fe River and at various springs in North Central Florida.

For advocates like Malwitz-Jipson, agriculture’s water use is a topic of debate. While agriculture is using more water, bottled water opponents argue that industry is producing food.

“Water use for agriculture is a much more important use than putting water in a plastic bottle,” Malwitz-Jipson said. “It’s a luxury item.”

It is how agriculture is using the water, and in what ways they are failing to conserve it, where the industry becomes a target for its consumption.

While water bottlers have invested in technology that has reduced water lost while bottling from 3 gallons to 1.3 gallons per gallon produced, the same cannot be said for farmers.

Investment in technologies that could save the agriculture industry millions of gallons a day are expensive and require investment not only from the farmers, but the locality from which the farms are getting their water.

In agriculture, most small farmers don’t have the capital to invest and large farmers don’t have the incentive to invest, said Kayla Martin, a farmer from northeast Florida.

Water bottlers, on the other hand, have been forced to demonstrate their interest in the environment because of decreasing consumer demand and pressure from environmental groups.

Agriculture may not receive the same kind of pressure because many view the product as essential to life and many do not know how much water agriculture consumes.In addition, the agriculture lobby in the state of Florida is one of the largest.

Agriculture directly employs more than 400,000 people statewide according to a report by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, also leading to economic pressure should the industry’s way of doing business change.

From a water perspective, the amount of water used is an issue. From an environmental point of view, water bottles are wasteful through their entire lifecycle, taking more energy to produce and leaving behind more plastic than could ever be recycled.

There is a difference in the industries, too, when comparing how each one maintains the water used. Nestlé, for example, works with the local community to maintain the springs it bottles from because they are reliant on fresh clean water. Agriculture, on the other hand, is notorious for it’s waste runoff that can contaminate groundwater.

Maintaining enough safe and clean drinking water in the state is the goal of everyone who studies water issues as was evident at the 2012 Water Policy conference at the University of Florida. What advocates like Malwtiz-Jipson would like to see is a tax on water bottlers so the industry is giving back to the community it makes a profit from.


(Florida Statutes Section 4, (a) 1 )