North Florida’s Springs

North Florida’s Springs

Morrison Springs in Walton County is a natural spring ideal for paddling, snorkeling, and diving. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extensio

There is just SO much water in Florida. Besides the tremendous amount of rain and 1,350 miles of coastline and beachfront, there are endless bays, bayous, creeks, rivers, and streams. In this state, it is extraordinarily difficult to live more than a few miles from a body of water. Among the the coolest (literally) types of water bodies in Florida, though, are our springs.  Like brilliant gemstones, the state’s 700+ springs dot the Florida landscape like a strand of sapphires.

While we have springs bubbling up all over northwest Florida in areas where the underground water table meets the surface, larger springs are more common as you move east and south. Some parts of north Florida and most of the peninsula are built on a limestone platform, known by the geological term “karst.” Limestone is composed of calcium carbonate, which has a porous and easily degradable chemical structure. When this barrier is breached, it allows the cold groundwater an opening directly to the surface water—hence a spring. (Fun fact—there are surface water streams that actually disappear into a spring—these are called swallets, operating as the reverse version of a spring!)

The striking blue-green water in Three Sisters Spring is only accessible by kayak or swimming. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

A few of the largest springs in northwest Florida are Vortex, Ponce de Leon, and Morrison Springs, found in Holmes and Walton County. Vortex is a privately operated water park and scuba diving/training facility. It is where the red and white “diver down” flag was invented and has a complex underwater cavern system. Ponce de Leon and Morrison Springs are state and county-run parks with a more natural feel, surrounded by woods and basic infrastructure for access. Morrison will especially wow visitors with its tremendous turquoise coloring.

Crystal clear water in Morrison Springs. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Before a meeting in Crystal River last week, I paddled and snorkeled through the famous Three Sisters Spring. As part of Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, it is a popular but highly protected area. Three Sisters is well-known as a manatee gathering place, especially in winter, but during my visit was mostly unoccupied. The color was striking, though. Why do so many of these springs have such brilliant blue and turquoise coloring? The phenomenon is essentially the same as the blue-green Gulf waters in the Panhandle. The reflection of the sky on a sunny day with the backdrop of that pure white sand causes the water to reflect a color that inspired the nickname “The Emerald Coast.” In springs, the white calcium carbonate in limestone breaks down into tiny crystals, mixing with the water and reflecting the vivid shades of blue.

Alexander Springs Creek in Ocala National Forest is overrun with algae. Photo credit: Matt Cohen, UF IFAS

Besides their beauty, clarity, recreational, and wildlife value, springs pump 8 billion gallons of fresh water a day of into Florida ecosystems. Seagrass meadows in many of these springs are lush. Because they are literal windows into the underground aquifer, they are extremely vulnerable to pollution. While many springs have been protected for decades, others were seen as places to dump trash and make it “disappear.” Many have been affected by urban stormwater and agricultural pollution, losing their clarity, reducing dissolved oxygen levels, and prompting massive cleanup and buffer protection zones.

On one of these hot summer days in Florida, take the time to visit our incredible springs. While it may not be the literal “Fountain of Youth,” swimming in a spring is a unique and invigorating experience, and a beautiful way to get off the beaten path. A comprehensive guide to Florida springs, research, and statewide protection initiatives can be found at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s springs website.

Preparing an Emergency Safe Drinking Water Supply Before a Storm

Preparing an Emergency Safe Drinking Water Supply Before a Storm

Prepare an emergency drinking water supply for your household before a storm hits. Image: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS.

Storm season is upon us. During a natural disaster, normal drinking water supplies can quickly become contaminated. To be prepared, collect and store a safe drinking water supply for your household before a storm arrives.

How much water should be stored?

  • Store enough clean water for everyone in the household to use 1 to 1.5 gallons per day for drinking and personal hygiene (small amounts for things like brushing teeth). Increase this amount if there are children, sick people, and/or nursing mothers in the home. If you have pets, store a quart to a gallon per pet per day, depending on its size.
  • Store a minimum 3-day supply of drinking water. If you have the space for it, consider storing up to a two-week supply.
  • For example, a four-person household requiring 1.5 gallons per person per day for 3 days would need to store 18 gallons: 4 people × 1.5 gallons per person × 3 days = 18 gallons. Don’t forget to include additional water for pets!

What containers can be used to store drinking water?

Store drinking water in thoroughly washed food-grade safe containers, which include food-grade plastic, glass containers, and enamel-lined metal containers, all with tight-fitting lids. These materials will not transfer harmful chemicals into the water or food they contain.

More specific examples include containers previously used to store beverages, like 2-liter soft drink bottles, juice bottles or containers made specifically to hold drinking water. Avoid plastic milk jugs if possible because they are difficult to clean. If you are going to purchase a container to store water, make sure it is labeled food-grade or food-safe.

As an extra safety measure, sanitize containers with a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented household bleach per quart of water (4 teaspoons per gallon of water). Use bleach that contains 5%–9% sodium hypochlorite. Add the solution to the container, close tightly and shake well, making sure that the bleach solution touches all the internal surfaces. Let the container sit for 30 seconds and pour the solution out. You can let the container air dry before use or rinse it thoroughly with clean water.

Best practices when storing drinking water

  • Store water away from direct sunlight, in a cool dark place if possible. Heat and light can slowly damage plastic containers and can eventually lead to leaks.
  • Make sure caps or lids are tightly secured.
  • Store smaller containers in a freezer. You can use them to help keep food cool in the refrigerator if the power goes out during a storm.
  • Keep water containers away from toxic substances (such as gasoline, kerosene, or pesticides). Vapors from these substances can penetrate plastic.
  • When possible, use water from opened containers in one or two days if they can’t be refrigerated.
  • Although properly stored public-supply water should have an indefinite shelf life, replace every 6-12 months for best taste.

More information on preparing an emergency drinking water supply can be found on the CDC website  and in the EDIS Publication ‘Preparing and Storing an Emergency Safe Drinking Water Supply

After Flooding, Test Your Well Water

After Flooding, Test Your Well Water

If your private well was damaged or flooded due to hurricane or other heavy storm activity, your well water may not be safe to drink. Well water should not be used for drinking, cooking purposes, making ice, brushing teeth or bathing until it is tested by a certified laboratory for total coliform bacteria and E. coli.

Residents should use bottled, boiled or treated water until their well water has been tested and deemed safe.

  • Boiling: To make water safe for drinking, cooking or washing, bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute to kill organisms and then allow it to cool.
  • Disinfecting with bleach: If boiling isn’t possible, add 1/8 of a teaspoon or about 8 drops of fresh unscented household bleach (4 to 6% active ingredient) per gallon of water. Stir well and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy after 30 minutes, repeat the procedure once.
  • Keep treated or boiled water in a closed container to prevent contamination

Use bottled water for mixing infant formula.

Where can you have your well water tested?

Contact your county health department for information on how to have your well water tested. Image: F. Alvarado Arce

Most county health departments accept water samples for testing. Contact your local department for information about what to have your water tested for (they may recommend more than just bacteria), and how to collect and submit the sample.

Contact information for Florida Health Departments can be found here: County Health Departments – Location Finder

You can also submit samples to a certified commercial lab near you. Contact information for commercial laboratories that are certified by the Florida Department of Health are found here: Laboratories certified by FDOH

This site includes county health department labs, commercial labs as well as university labs. You can search by county.

What should you do if your well water sample tests positive for bacteria?

The Florida Department of Health recommends well disinfection if water samples test positive for total coliform bacteria or for both total coliform and E. coli, a type of fecal coliform bacteria.

You can hire a local licensed well operator to disinfect your well, or if you feel comfortable, you can shock chlorinate the well yourself.

You can find information on how to shock chlorinate your well at:

After well disinfection, you need to have your well water re-tested to make sure it is safe to use. If it tests positive again for total coliform bacteria or both total coliform and E. coli call a licensed well operator to have the well inspected to get to the root of the problem.

Well pump and electrical system care

If the pump and/or electrical system have been underwater and are not designed to be used underwater, do not turn on the pump. There is a potential for electrical shock or damage to the well or pump. Stay away from the well pump while flooded to avoid electric shock.

Once the floodwaters have receded and the pump and electrical system have dried, a qualified electrician, well operator/driller or pump installer should check the wiring system and other well components.

Remember: You should have your well water tested at any time when:

  • A flood occurred and your well was affected
  • The color, taste or odor of your well water changes or if you suspect that someone became sick after drinking your well water.
  • A new well is drilled or if you have had maintenance done on your existing well
  • There has been any type of chemical spill (pesticides, fuel, etc.) into or near your well

The Florida Department of Health maintains an excellent website with many resources for private well users: FDOH Private Well Testing and other Reosurces which includes information on potential contaminants and how to maintain your well to ensure the quality of your well water.