Clay Henderson: People, not cows, are polluting Gemini Springs

Serene — The spring run at Gemini Springs Park provides a serene glimpse of wild Florida.

Serene — The spring run at Gemini Springs Park provides a serene glimpse of wild Florida.

BEACON FILE PHOTO

By Clay Henderson

On the whole, your recent story about Gemini Springs was interesting and informative, but the final sentence compels a response, since it repeats an incorrect urban legend.

Your story notes, “There is no swimming at Gemini Springs Park, because, over decades past, cattle-ranching operations on the site contaminated the waters.” This statement, as it turns out, is less than 1-percent true.

Gemini Springs was purchased by Volusia County from Charles and Saundra Gray in 1993, and has operated as a popular public park since then. 

While the Grays maintained a cattle ranch for many years, all cows have been removed for more than 25 years. In 2002, Gemini Springs was closed to swimming due to high levels of bacteria, and has not reopened since then.

In 2016, the Legislature named Gemini Springs an “Outstanding Florida Spring,” and directed the Water Management District and state Department of Environmental Protection to initiate rulemaking to establish minimum spring flows, maximum loads for pollutants, and a recovery plan known as a BMAP,  which is due to be implemented by July 1.

The state measured the amount of pollutants in the spring discharge. It should be no surprise that the real culprits are people and not ghost cows.

According to the report, 87 percent of the nutrient pollution in Gemini Springs is from septic tanks and residential fertilizer, and less than 1 percent of the problem is livestock waste.

The report also notes there are 1,937 septic tanks on lots smaller than 1 acre in size within the focus area of Gemini Springs. Further, a report of water chemistry from the U.S. Geological Survey shows the spring vent contains a range of chemicals generally associated with wastewater.

Volusia County needs to come to grips with the pollution of our springs, rivers and estuaries. We now have more than 100,000 septic tanks in Volusia, and they are a major factor in nutrient pollution of our springs.

Everyone wants to be a leader in something, but why we want to be a leader in septic tanks is elusive to me. All of our major surface waters in Volusia, including our springs, St. Johns River and Indian River Lagoon, are now deemed impaired under the Clean Water Act.

It’s time we developed a strategy to restore these aquatic gems to ensure a sustainable future for all of us who depend on these water resources.

 

— Clay Henderson is executive director of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience at Stetson University.

Editor’s note: The Beacon’s statement stemmed from our years-held belief, grounded in reports during our initial coverage of the springs’ purchase and never updated. We appreciate Mr. Henderson’s correction and apologize for our error. The misstatement was an editing error, not a mistake by writer Erika Webb.

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