Crystal River Florida is known for its vibrant, azure springs and “Old Florida” landscape. How can you look out on a sawgrass prairie and not say “wow”? Even though the landscape remains picturesque, the water quality of the river still drastically declines. Only 40 years ago, one could clearly see fish and manatee swimming below. Now in the main river, it is hard to spot any fish unless they jump from the murky water.
What exactly defines water quality though? Water quality simply is the state or condition of the water. When calculating water quality in Crystal River, marine biologists must consider many aspects: temperature, suspended solids, pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity, and nitrate concentration. Biologists measure many other element concentrations, but we will not focus on them right now. I will briefly define the terms mentioned above, but I plan on addressing them each individually on different posts.
Temperature: It measures the relative hotness or coldness of the water.
Suspended solids: It measures small solid particles floating or suspended in water (comparable to turbidity or cloudiness in the water).
pH: It measures the acidity or basicity of the water (higher pH = more basic; lower pH = more acidic).
Dissolved oxygen: It measures the amount of dissolved oxygen in water over a given area of space.
Salinity: It measures the saltiness of the water.
Nitrate: It measures the amount and type of nitrates (harmful in high concentrations) found in water.
Marine biologists run tests at least once a year to identify trends and see patterns in water quality data. Sadly, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Crystal River’s water quality has been decreasing rapidly due to human pollutants. The lower the water quality, the harder it is for the ecosystem to thrive. Thankfully Three Sisters and Hunter Springs are places of high water quality where manatee, birds, and fish can take refuge. Sadly though, even these landmark locations suffer from degrading water quality.
What’s being done?
Thankfully, there are people willing and able to help restore the river to its original good health. The organization Save Crystal River has been working tirelessly since their foundation in 2011 to preserve the river and restore the degraded areas. Their impact can already be seen through the improved water quality in project zones and in downstream locations. Save Crystal River’s success inspired Homosassa to organize a similar project called the Homosassa River Restoration Project, which is currently waiting for their final permit before they begin work. (Check out their website for more information: https://homosassariverrestorationproject.com/about/)
In these next few posts, I will explain the factors that determine water quality and how good water quality is essential for a healthy ecosystem. I’ll lead you through Save Crystal River’s three step plan to accomplish their mission and hope you will share this information with others. Maybe you will even consider chipping in your time and energy to make our river even more captivating.
I’ll see you on the water,
Walker A. Willis