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Florida Aquifers Size and Magnitudes
The state of Florida receives heavy rainfall from north to south throughout the year. Annual average precipitation for the entire state is about 51 inches, with North Florida and South Florida receiving above-average precipitation. Central Florida receives a state average annual rainfall of 51 inches. However, Florida’s landscape can absorb a lot during tropical storms and hurricanes. The amount of water absorbed into Florida’s landscape is staggering at estimated absorption rates that average more than 20 inches per year (4). In Florida, water is trapped in the ground and then held in hydrogeologically structured natural phenomena called “aquifer systems.” Aquifers are important to Florida’s freshwater resources because they contain or contain freshwater needed for drinking, agriculture, and industry.
Gravity forces hydrogeologic groundwater movement in aquifer systems. Under natural conditions, aquifer water moves “downhill” and sometimes reaches the ground surface or springs or bubbles from the sand in a river bed, pond, or other wetland. The amount of water flowing through an aquifer also depends on the porosity and permeability of the soil materials within its boundary. In other words, water flows faster (2) If the voids or pores in the aquifer boundaries are large, this space will be small.
Florida boasts nearly 8,000 temperate and subtropical bodies of water. It is highest in the southeastern United States. (1) The state also has thousands of lakes, ponds, rivers, springs and “ephemeral” or sinking waters, the Everglades, and plenty of quicksand. In fact, Lake Okeechobee is Florida’s largest lake at about 683 square miles. It is bigger than many districts in the state.
Florida Spring Dimensions
Florida’s landmass achieves an incredible balance. The Florida land mass “floats” on a vast aquifer system (subterranean sea) of fresh water that flows in the subsurface from the Florida Panhandle south to Miami (3). Aquifer water flows with ebb and tide cycles in aquifers according to rainfall patterns for aquifer recharge. Aquifer systems can be thousands of feet thick and perhaps only two feet in diameter, running horizontally for miles. The largest aquifers form large “artesian” springs, and the way to measure a spring is by its volume flow rate.
Springs are measured in “magnitudes”, where “first” magnitude springs are the largest, “second” magnitude springs are the second largest, and so on. The magnitude of the spring is related to the amount of water released from the spring opening each second. A first magnitude spring has a flow rate greater than 100 cubic feet per second. Florida officials report 300 “artesian” springs and 27 first-rate springs (2). These two natural phenomena cannot be matched anywhere else in the United States. Researchers believe more “first dimension” springs exist and can be identified due to the nature of Florida’s karst landscape. Silver Springs, Weeki Wachy Springs, and Kings Bay, headwaters of the Crystal River, are examples of Florida’s first major springs.
Headwaters of Crystal River Form from the first Magnitude Springs where I learned to scuba dive as a youth. A primary spring opening is creating King’s Bay with crystal clear aquifer water to a depth of about fifty feet. The bay itself contains a large variety of flora and fauna. Crystal River is also a sanctuary for herds of manatees to enjoy the warmth offered by the spring during the winter months. The average temperature of the water flowing through the spring opening, winter or not, is about 72 degrees F each day.
Another interesting statistic is that the spring runoff rate is directly related to the recharge rate in Florida’s aquifer systems based on the “spring sheds” or average annual precipitation in the local watershed leading up to the spring in question. When all are counted, Florida springs produce more water than anywhere else on Earth. The deepest and largest first-magnitude spring and aquifer system ever discovered are in northern Florida, near Tallahassee.
Florida’s springs and their associated ecosystems are unique and cannot be recreated by humans, giving them enormous ecological value. Many of Florida’s springs are along the coast and form streams and rivers in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. These ecosystems are unique to the entire world and contain a diverse population of aquatic and marine dependent life. (4) This includes marine species living in fresh, brackish and brackish water.
Notably, springs may not be owned by individuals or businesses if they are accessible by nearby public waterways (4). However, Florida’s phosphate industry mines many of these environmentally sensitive areas every day. Florida law, in this case, is vague at best because the state of Florida allows the phosphate industry to strip the landscape of this unique ecosystem. Where is the balance between public and industrial water use?
1. DEP – (Florida Department of Environmental Protection)
2. Learn about springs in West Central Florida. (swfwmd.state.fl.us)
3. Sinkhole information. (lakecountyfl.gov)
4. Water Quantity and Policy in Florida. (srwqis.tamu.edu)
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