Wakulla Springs fights nitrate contamination

Tallahassee residents who get their drinking water from Wakulla Springs can breathe a sigh of relief after local officials have identified the source of unhealthy nitrate deposits in the water.

After a three year cooperative study between the United States Geologists Service and the City of Tallahassee, Hydrologist and USGS member Hal Davis said the deposits are coming from Crawfordville’s spray fields, the inflow from the northern part of Leon County and the septic tanks were the major sources of nitrate to the springs.

Davis said there are eight different nitrate sources that can corrupt water sources.

After attending a Wakulla Springs workshop, William (Bill) Landing, Professor of Oceanography at Florida State University and Chairman of Leon County’s Science Advisory Committee, and his review committee discovered the problems that Wakulla Springs faced.

“After looking at all the data, we released a report that suggested that the city’s southeast spray field, off of Train Road, was responsible for the dramatic increase in nitrate concentration in the Springs, since probably the mid 1990s up until 2005 or so,” Landing said.

A few years after the report was released, the city agreed to upgrade their treatment to ensure that the water used for the spray fields would have a much lower nitrate concentration, which would improve the water quality in Wakulla Springs.

While the members are sure that the problem can be eliminated, the question still remains, should Leon county revise a new ordinance requiring advanced septic tank systems to decrease the nitrate concentration by a factor of six, like Wakulla county?

“Wakulla Springs has been suffering from degraded water quality, and we need to fix that,” said Sean McGlynn, a Leon County SAC member and biologist. “This ordinance may not fix it; this may not be a good ordinance. We just can’t change all the septic tanks magically. We can only get the new ones to be put in, and the old ones that break, to be fixed. And that may not make such a big difference, is what we’re worried about, if it makes less than five percent of a difference, there’s no point in doing it.”

Although the study is completed, the comments from other scientists must be addressed, and then the regional headquarters have to approve the ordinance. Once the ordinance is approved by regional headquarters, the SAC would make a recommendation to the County and City Commissioners of Tallahassee.

“Protection of the environment is important because if the environment degrades significantly, then our quality of life will go down,” said Landing. “So I think everyone should be worried about the quality of the environment, as it relates to the quality of their life. Or the quality of the environment that their going to leave to their children.”