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Groundwater Management

 

Integrating groundwater protection into DEP’s watershed management approach has required an expansion of both monitoring design and data analysis to include groundwater–surface water interaction. Historically, groundwater protection has emphasized land use and aquifer vulnerability, as well as investigating and remediating local point sources of contamination to protect potable water supplies. Watershed protection, however, requires the additional consideration of groundwater contributions to surface waterbodies through springs and base flows.

Springs are among Florida’s most treasured natural resources and the Groundwater Management Program is responsible for several aspects of DEP’s initiative to address spring water quality issues. These include routine and targeted spring water quality monitoring and assessment, developing Total Maximum Daily Loads (water quality restoration targets) for springs with impaired water quality, and assisting in the implementation of restoration activities. The program directs and participates in a variety of projects to identify and address sources of spring and groundwater pollution, such as septic systems, inorganic fertilizer, and other wastewater and agricultural sources, including the Nitrogen Source Inventory and Loading Tool (NSILT) development. In addition to DEPs own springs webpage, the program maintains the floridasprings.org website, a venue for the public to find information on springs and an excellent educational outlet.

Serving as the base flow of many surface waters is a critical function of groundwater that must be protected to support aquatic life in those surface waterbodies. Naturally occurring elements in Florida such as phosphorus and iron are in relative abundance in some of Florida’s aquifers and, along with human sources of groundwater contamination, can be expressed as surface water pollution where groundwater contributes significantly to surface waterbodies.

Another key role of the Groundwater Management Program is to represent DEP in the review of pesticides proposed for registration in Florida. The program evaluates the potential of candidate pesticides to adversely affect groundwater resources and surface waters via groundwater transport.

Groundwater Management Program Responsibilities

Program Area

Description

Contacts

Groundwater – Surface Water Interaction & Basin Assessment

Historically, Florida’s groundwater monitoring activities focused almost entirely on protecting drinking water supplies. In addition to this focus, DEP now also integrates groundwater data into its watershed assessments to help in the evaluation of groundwater impacts on surface water quality. This is especially important in Florida, where groundwater discharges into streams, canals, lakes, and estuaries and can provide as much as 80 percent of the total flow to some surface waters. Because of this groundwater–surface water interaction, it is important to assess groundwater quality, identify potential pollutants, establish whether they are likely to be discharged to surface water, and identify any potential impacts that may already be expressed as surface water impairments.

Richard Hicks
Professional Geologist Administrator
850/245-8229

Floridasprings.org Website

The Floridasprings.org website is one of the DEP’s most popular outreach tools, providing information about springs to the general public including teachers and students, more technically-minded users, and visitors to the state who are looking for a vacation destination. The website also includes important information on upcoming events, water quality summaries and information about springs in Florida’s state park system, and a link to the KARST film production of “Water’s Journey, the Hidden Rivers of Florida” and associated teaching curriculum.  Go to the Florida Springs Website.

Gary Maddox
Professional Geologist II
850/245-8511

Nitrogen Source Inventory and Loading Tool (NSILT) Assessments

To identify and quantify the major sources of nitrogen in groundwater contributing areas to springs, the section developed the Nitrogen Source Inventory and Loading Tool (NSILT). This tool quantifies nitrogen inputs to the land surface based on the best available, current information on land uses, agricultural practices, urban fertilizer use, waste disposal methods, and atmospheric sources. The NSILT is also used to estimates nitrogen loads to groundwater in the contributing area by taking into account the attenuation of various forms of nitrogen from sources and recharge rates to the Floridan Aquifer System. The NSILT results are used in the development and implementation of basin management action plans (BMAP) to reduce nitrogen in spring systems. For more information and results, see the Nitrogen Source Inventory and Loading Tool.

Kirstin Eller
Environmental Consultant
850/245-8652

Restoration Focus Areas (RFA)

As part of the Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) to restore water quality in the Santa Fe River and its impaired spring-fed tributaries by reducing nitrogen loads to the system, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Office of Agricultural Water Policy (OAWP) are collaborating on a restoration focus area (RFA) in the Santa Fe River Basin.  The two agencies are concentrating staff and funding to expedite the implementation of nutrient management best management practices (BMPs) and to evaluate their impact on water quality within the RFA.  The 185-square-mile RFA includes the combined springsheds of Ginnie and Gilchrist Blue Springs, which discharge significant loads of nitrate-nitrogen to the lower Santa Fe River.  The RFA activities began in January 2013 and include ongoing efforts to maximize enrollment in agricultural BMPs for vegetable and agronomic crops and cow-calf operations, and to monitor (quarterly) water quality at 20 monitoring wells, four springs, and three Santa Fe River stations.  Similar focus area projects are underway in other areas.

Brian Katz, Ph.D.
Environmental Specialist
850/245-8233

Total Maximum Daily Loads for Springs

One of the program’s responsibilities is the identification of nutrient impaired springs and the development of restoration thresholds called Total Maximum Daily Loads. TMDLs developed for springs are used as water quality targets for restoration projects and activities in basin management action plans.

Richard Hicks
Professional Geologist Administrator
850/245-8229

Spring Water Quality Monitoring

Approximately 100 springs in Florida are currently being routinely monitored by DEP and Florida’s water management districts. The DEP program includes quarterly sampling of springs for a wide range of analytes, including nutrients, salinity indicators, and several chemicals that help determine the age of spring water and the sources of nutrients that may be occurring in them.

Gary Maddox
Professional Geologist II
850/245-8511

Groundwater and Springs Water Quality Data

The protection of water resources is enhanced by collecting and managing groundwater and springs data, which are collected from various DEP programs and other agencies and integrated into a centralized repository. These data are managed to support the identification of impaired springs, development of Total Maximum Daily Loads, spring system assessments, and groundwater to surface water interaction investigations. Data are catalogued and mapped to maximize the identification of natural and anthropogenic substances of concern for particular aquifers.

Debra Harrington
Environmental Consultant
850/245-8232

Groundwater and Springs Special Projects

Assessments of the extensive monitoring data on the chemistry of groundwater and springs can provide important information about baseline water quality conditions, and how human activities affect these conditions. By combining the water quality data with information on land use practices and changes in springsheds, groundwater flow patterns and other hydrologic conditions, and climate, we can better understand the factors controlling the transport and fate of nutrients in the subsurface, changes in water quality over time, and how best management practices affect groundwater and spring water quality.

Brian Katz, Ph.D.
Environmental Specialist
850/245-8233

Agrichemical Effects – Pesticides and Best Management Practices (BMPs)

 

The section provides consultation to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) on evaluating the movement of agricultural chemicals in the environment. It also assists Florida DACS with technical reviews of pesticides that are proposed to be registered for sale in Florida, and participates in monthly Pesticide Registration Evaluation Committee meetings to consider potential water quality impacts. In 2013, the program began coordinating a pilot study which adds pesticide samples to select water bodies that are sampled through the DEP Strategic Monitoring Program. These data will be published in the DEP Integrated Assessment Reports.

For more information on pesticide registration, use and monitoring in Florida, visit the DACS Division of Agricultural Environmental Services’ Bureau of Scientific Evaluation and Technical Assistance web page.

Brian Katz, Ph.D.
Environmental Specialist
850/245-8233

Last updated: August 30, 2016

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