Fanning Springs offers swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving, but tainted by nitrates
Kayakers gather to watch and tag sturgeon in the Suwannee River near Fanning Springs as scientists from the US Geological Survey Network in 2015.
When looking to Fanning Spring, it's hard to balance the beauty of its blue water with an ugly truth - it's one of the most nutritious springs in the area, with nitrate concentrations approaching unsafe levels.
The first size spring and state park on the Suwannee River in Levy County draws thousands of visitors each year. You have to pass information stands along the walkways and wooden walkways to the source, which explain how actions on land - especially the use of fertilizers - pollute the water.
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As with many other springs in the region, people have lived on Fanning for eons. Information from the Florida Park Service states that the Paleo-Indian people began drinking their water and eating their fish and animals 14,000 years ago. Several Aboriginal sites have been found in the park.
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White settlers eventually began moving to the region. A fortress was built there in 1838 during the Second Seminole War. Later, a ferry across the Suwannee carried people and horses for years.
While the town of Fanning Springs didn't grow much, spring was a popular place to cool off with people from all over the area.
Location: Fanning Springs State Park is located at 18020 U.S. 19 in the city of Fanning Springs.
About: Fanning is considered a first magnitude spring, which means that the water flowed at a rate of at least 100 cubic feet per second, although that rate slowed in the 1990s. The Suwannee River Water Management District still calls it the first size.
The state bought about 200 acres around the source and its course to the Suwannee River in 1993 and became part of the park system in 1997.
Visitors: Swimming, snorkeling and diving in open water are allowed in spring. Divers must be certified and register with park staff before entering the water. There must be at least two divers present.
A 200 m long boardwalk meanders along the source through cypress trees to the Suwannee River. Spring at a point on the river where sturgeons often jump in the spring and summer months, a beautiful sight but dangerous for boaters and paddlers.
Manatees sometimes hibernate in the spring, when the constant 72-degree water is warmer than the Suwannee River or the Gulf of Mexico.
Issues: Fanning has been one of the state's most polluted sources for decades, with nitrates as the culprit. The spring is open for swimming, but not the most inviting place to swim due to the excess of algae.
Neither the Suwannee River Water Management District nor the U.S. The Geological Survey available, but they were significantly higher than the state-set 0.35 milligrams per liter to help contain pollution.
Fanning is also prone to flooding when the Suwannee River is high, which could also affect algae growth by changing water chemistry in the spring.
A report by the Federal Environment Agency lists Fanning Springs as impaired for the reproduction of fish and wild animals, fish consumption and recreation. The impairments to recreation and reproduction are caused by nitrates and a lack of oxygen. The nuisance for consumption is mercury in fish.
Future: Fanning, its downstream neighbor Manatee Springs and others are involved in a high-nitrate-triggered action plan for Suwannee River Basin Management.
The plans require farmers in the basin to adopt nitrate reduction practices, such as reducing fertilizer use. Septic tanks in new homes can also be restricted, and wastewater treatment systems may need to meet stricter standards. Sports facilities such as golf courses can be given incentives to reduce the use of fertilizers.
Spring proponents, including the Florida Springs Institute and Florida Springs Council, believe that the basin plans are not strong enough to reduce nitrates.
Florida Springs Council cited several examples of deficiencies in a legal challenge to the Suwannee Basin Plan, including the lack of specific requirements to reduce fertilizer use and no restrictions on new sewage treatment plants over an acre.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Fanning Springs offers visitors a variety of fun lessons about pollution
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