The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are planning to stabilize the banks of the run at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City.
This is the second project introduced to the public in as many weeks aimed at protecting the spring, a valuable resource that attracts locals and tourists alike.
The first plan announced involves altering a nearby mine to act as a wetland recharge area. The borrow pit has recently been given the stamp of approval by the cities and Volusia County.
That project asks affected cities, Volusia County and the St. Johns River Water Management District to foot the bill, but the bank-stabilization project will be paid for by state environmental agencies and the federal government.
The DEP, FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will cover the estimated $650,000 to $800,000 cost of reinforcing unstable slopes and filling in sections of bank that have been carved out by natural and human activities.
Swimming will be prohibited during the construction project.
To any of the 600,000-plus visitors a year to the park, the boil at the end of the spring — and the vertical slopes that surround it — are familiar sights.
But not all of the banks are stable — the slopes at the boil and a 650-foot section of the spring run have been identified by an engineering company as unstable.
The problem is different in each section. At the boil, the banks have what they call a “gravity failure zone.” In the 650-foot section of the run, however, the problem is undercutting. From the surface, the bank looks stable, but underneath, sections of sediment have been carved out, in some cases as far as 12 feet back from the bank on the surface.
The reasons for the deterioration are myriad: Aquatic life, such as the invasive armored catfish, can burrow and dig out sand and muck. The sloshing of water by swimmers, manatees and alligators has an effect, too.
“I would circle the answer ‘all of the above,’” Blue Spring Park Manager Michael Watkins said.
The plan is to shore up the sides of the boil, and to fill the carved-out sections of the bank, in both cases using natural materials.
State officials and park employees, as well as environmental groups like Save the Manatee Club, are working through every detail of the plan with a fine-toothed comb.
That includes planning for resting spots for swimmers, and planning for possible curious visitors during the construction project.
“We know there are year-round manatees, and they can be very curious — we want to make sure we’re thinking ahead,” FWC biologist Annie Roddenberry said. “Maybe they’ll hang out and watch the show. It will be the most interesting thing in the spring.”
Ultimately, the plan is to reinforce the banks of the spring in a way that will last.
“We don’t want to do this again,” Roddenberry said.
Questions and Answers
How long will Blue Spring be closed to swimming?
The bank-stabilization project is planned to begin in the relatively slow season of the park next year, which is late summer 2020. The timing is after children return to school, and before manatees enter the spring en masse for the winter. If the project is not ready to begin by summer 2020, officials will push the timeline to spring 2021 to avoid disrupting the annual influx of manatees.
If the project begins on time, the spring will be closed to swimming in late summer, about two to three months earlier than it normally closes for swimming.
Shouldn’t Blue Spring be allowed to take a natural course, without human interference?
Humans are part of the natural world, and we will continue to be. Spaces where we exist in nature are important. In the case of Blue Spring, the site has been a center for human activity for the entirety of the history of humans in this region of Florida. In addition, destabilization of the banks can endanger wildlife and humans alike.
Will construction activities in the spring endanger manatees or other wildlife?
There are many protections in place to ensure this doesn’t happen. For instance, if a manatee comes within 50 feet of the construction, the operation will shut down.
The materials used to shore up the banks are to be composed of natural vegetation, which could ultimately provide even more shelter for wildlife, such as species of freshwater turtles.
How much will this cost? Who’s paying?
The cost is estimated to be between $650,000 and $800,000, depending on the ever-fluctuating cost of construction materials. The State of Florida, via funding from different state environmental agencies, will foot the bill.
Has similar bank reconstruction been done at other first-magnitude springs in Florida?
Yes. In fact, one of the reasons officials feel comfortable with the project is that the methods are tried and tested, and have been shown to be effective. One of the examples of similar projects officials gave was at Three Sisters Springs in Citrus County.