The Amy H Remley Foundation  


Special to the Chronicle
Michael G. Czerwinski, P.G., P.W.S.

May 9, 2011.

IMAGINE for a moment a pristine, coastal, spring fed waterbody, with CRYSTAL clear water, white sandy or rocky bottom, and long strips of tape grass beds that appear to be waving in the breeze and the water literally bubbles with oxygen. IMAGINE jumping into this clear, swimming pool like water teaming with a multitude of fish and wildlife, including blue crabs, bass and mullet and most importantly a large, lumbering, docile marine mammal, the West Indian Manatee, that comes up to you and gently nudges you with her snout or rolls over to invite you to have her belly rubbed. This is not somewhere in the Caribbean or even one of Florida most pristine Springs in the Ocala National Forest but a description of our own Nature Coast and revered Crystal River and Kings Bay in the 1970’s. Now awake from your dream to turbid waters of little visibility, a bottom of muck or dead algae that gets stirred up by the slightest flipper action and water that smells foul. There is nary a glimpse of a blue crab, but instead dock pilings that have been now encrusted with bottom fouling salt water barnacles, lyngyba algae that cover the surface and you would emerge from the water with itching contact dermatitis from cyanotoxins.

As many of us have known for a while and many of our tourists are beginning to discover is that Kings Bay is in severe trouble. Residents that live on or use the bay, local governments, agency personnel and local politicians have been aware of the degradation for some time but appear powerless to reverse the trend, since we are told by the agencies that the “problems” or causative factors are not well understood, require more study or that rising sea levels will make restoration futile. As Helen Spivey and Dr. K.C. Nayfield for many years, and more recently Norman Hopkins of the Amy H. Remley Foundation and others have pointed out, we are at risk of loosing one of our vital natural resources that serves also as a clean, tourism based economic engine for the county and the larger Nature Coast. I recall when bellweather, Helen Spivey first brought a mason jar of turbid water from Kings Bay to a council meeting many years ago. The designation of Kings Bay as a Florida Outstanding Florida Water, Federally Designated Critical Habitat for the West Indian Manatee, and a Manatee Refuge does not appear to have offered the necessary protections.

As a local marine biologist, professional wetland scientist and licensed geologist who has studied the bay and been involved in water resource protection and permitting locally since 1986, I say that the time is now to provide solutions and begin development of “Kings Bay Habitat Restoration Plan” and actual restoration of Kings Bay. Such a plan must be comprehensive in its approach, large scale and include as the key component, the removal of detrital sediment (aka bottom muck) that has built up from early years of dredging and filling, creation of mosquito control canals, and many years of sewage and storm water discharge and spraying and decay of aquatic plants. It is suspected that it is this fine sediment, which is frequently re suspended into the water column, which holds and releases nutrients and algal “spores” and prevents desirable submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) from growing. Sediment removal will expose the historic substrate, preparing it for planting of SAV plots and has the potential to restore flow of smaller, closed spring vents. Planting SAV and beneficial shoreline plants will help to control future sediment, improve water quantity and quality and help uptake nutrients, specifically nitrate which spring studies now indicate comes out of the springs at elevated levels as a result of land use practices within the springshed, As envisioned, established SAV beds within the bay will not only provide an abundant and sustainable local food source for wintering manatees, preventing winter malnourishment but also perhaps prevent the need for winter manatees to travel daily to the river and gulf where they would be exposed to more and faster boat traffic.

Ultimately, this letter is a call to action to waterfront and non-waterfront residents, recreational users, dive shop owners, motel owners, the EDC, Chamber of Commerce, local government leaders, regulatory agency personal and all other stakeholders to come together and participate in developing a solution(s) to fix our bay for the wildlife, manatees and recreational users. The Kings Bay Working Group headed by Gary Williams of the SWFWMD has been meeting on a regular basis in Crystal River to report on the results of studies, disseminate pertinent information and pull together agency personnel and other stakeholders in open discussions regarding Issues associated with Kings Bay. The working group has defined the major issues: Nutrient Management, Water Quality and (nuisance) Aquatic Plants; and had many accomplishments over the past few years including but not limited to mapping and analysis of the northern watershed and participating with the City on recent storm water retrofit projects designed to control what is coming into the bay with our storm water runoff.

A joint meeting of the Kings Bay Working Group and the Citrus Hernando Waterways Restoration Council, Citrus County Task Force is scheduled to address these issues and take public comment on this Monday May 9 th at 2:00 at the Crystal River Preserve State Park. As a member of the Task Force, I would strongly encourage all interested parties to attend this meeting and provide their comments and concerns and get actively involved in demanding action to begin restoration. Speakers at this meeting will include Dr. Bob Knight of the Florida Springs Institute.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the recent successes around the bay including the acquisition of Three Sisters Springs, and commend Lace Blue Mclean, and all those involved in its purchase as well as the implementation of central sewer and removal of septic systems around the bay. We need to use these successes to propel us to even greater success with the larger problem- “that 800 pound gorilla in the room”. Kudos also go out to Senator Charlie Dean Sr. Chair of the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, who at a legislative information session on March 2, 2011 identified the restoration of Kings Bay as one of his top priorities this legislative year.

As a final food for thought and as a contributing scientist and author of the Diagnostic Studies of the Rainbow River, Diagnostic Studies of Lake Panasoffkee, Naples (Manatee) Boat Traffic Study, and the award winning Rainbow River Management Plan, I would strongly suggest that the City of Crystal River and Citrus County utilize or adapt the RRMP to develop and ENFORCE a similar residential waterfront storm water ordinance and the USFWS sponsor a much needed manatee and recreational carrying capacity study of the bay.

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