Summer & Springs

Written by Sr. Patricia Siemen

“Where did the summer go?”

Are you saying that, too? Although we at CEJ are gearing up for the fall term and future programming, we brought our summer spirits together to celebrate the last of the season with a team paddle in the Thousand Islands (Banana River/Indian River Lagoon) on Labor Day evening. Thanks to Space Coast Kayaking for hosting us and knowing just where to direct us so we could experience incredible bioluminescence.

Tiny marine plankton called dinoflagellates produce light when disturbed by a paddle, a hand, or fish swimming, causing an amazing twinkling or neon-like light to appear.  It was awesome to see schools of fish flash by, and to see the twinkling go up and down one’s arm after dipping it into the warm water.

It was particularly poignant to realize we were kayaking in the northern end of the much endangered Indian River Lagoon. The southern end of the lagoon is under siege from huge amounts of pollutants flowing into it from stormwater discharge from Lake Okeechobee, septic tanks, and fertilizer runoff.

The entire lagoon – and the fish, manatees, pelicans, and other beings who live there – is struggling to survive pollution from stormwater discharge, septic tanks, and fertilizer runoff, but still generously produced its magic. Throughout the lagoon the fish, manatees, dolphins, and pelicans are dying in massive amounts. How lovely then to be greeted as we began our paddle by two gentle manatees, a rainbow dissolving, and the sky fading into dusk.

These are the experiences that renew one’s spirit to continue to fight to protect the beauty and essence of the natural world around us. We all have special and ordinary places of beauty and nourishment that sustain.

CEJ’s mission is to awaken people to nature’s inherent rights to exist and flourish, and to advance public policies that legally protect both human and nature’s rights to live and thrive in sustainable communities. Thus I found myself at the press conference with Governor Scott last week at Wekiwa Springs State Park.

Given the promo that he was going to make a major announcement about springs restoration funding, I went with interest, albeit more than a bit doubtful. I also went with a lengthy letter in hand to personally deliver to him, describing CEJ’s major concerns that nothing is actually happening–nor has anything been happening—to restore the historic flow of the Wekiva River nor to reduce the devastating nitrate pollution levels in the springs and springshed. (Read the letter here.)


Helene Spring (photo by Jane Goddard)

Helene Spring (photo by Jane Goddard)


The press conference was mainly fluff: comments from elected leaders and directors of the Department of the Environmental Protection and several of the water management districts. I turned to someone next to me after the first several speakers and asked, “Did I miss something? What’s the news?” He shrugged and shook his head, as befuddled as I was by the lack of news.

I continued to wonder as we heard many people speak about springs restoration projects that were to begin, funded with the $10 million allocated by the Legislature, and augmented with funding from the water management districts and already strapped local governments. When it was over I asked Representative Elizabeth Porter, Lake City, what was the news? “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I didn’t hear anything new here.” She said the newsworthy item was that the allocated $10 million for springs’ recovery was being supplemented with additional funding from the Water Management Districts and local governments.

My conclusion is that this was a major public relations stunt–and the springs will still be suffering degradation except for a handful of isolated projects. What this clearly doesn’t mean is that the state agencies will actually begin to fulfill their statutory mandates to protect the springs, or that any significant shifts in springs friendly policies will be emerging.

As the Governor entered the room I had a moment to greet him.  I said I had a letter to give him about the DEP and the Water Management Districts’ lagging response to correcting the springs’ water quality and quantity. Instead of responding to my comment he looked at my name tag and saw that it said “Sister Patricia.” He began talking to me about sisters he had known while in the health care business. I responded that I was there to talk about the springs – and the moment was over.

We did deliver our letter, however, summarizing what needs to be done to restore Florida’s springs to their historic flows and radically reduce nitrate pollution. The larger transformation and remedy will be when we as a state adopt a constitutional amendment that recognizes the rights of nature—for humans and ecosystems—to exist and thrive as sustainable communities. The springs clearly are more than just “property” available for human use and consumption–or worse, as convenient waste receptacles.

And so, as we stay resilient in the struggle for ecological integrity, we wish you more days and nights paddling on the river, or fishing, or swimming, or whatever sustains your commitment to appreciate and protect the wonder and healing of nature that nourishes all of us.

Get outside and be amazed!