SRWMD And FWC Are Working To Restore Bell Springs

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News Release: Suwannee River Water Management District

LIVE OAK, FL– The Suwannee River Water Management District (District) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are partnering to restore the natural spring run and ecology of Bell Springs in Columbia County.

Prior to the District acquiring the property, the spring flow was interrupted by the installation of earthen berms and culverts to partition the spring run into three distinct ponds.

The narrow spring run was converted into a 1.3 acre pond and two smaller ponds. Interruptions in the natural flow caused the main pond to become dominated by algae and the smaller ponds to be overrun with duckweed.

The District acquired the 54-acre Bell Springs Tract in 2008 to protect water quality, floodplains, and natural systems. The spring discharges about 350 gallons per minute or 180 million gallons per year. It flows to the Suwannee River just northeast of White Springs.

Removing the berms will convert the artificial ponds back to a natural spring run, which will restore the natural hydrology and the natural communities at the spring.

Construction crews are presently removing the berms and relocating the fill on site. The fill will be used to rebuild the natural grade and contours of the original spring run channel.

“The top of the largest dam was about 30 feet above the natural grade,” explained Patrick Webster, project manager for the District. “In total, 3,019 cubic yards of fill, which is enough fill to cover a football field nearly 1.5 feet deep, will be removed from the spring run to allow the spring to flow uninterrupted to the Suwannee River.”

Native trees and vegetation will be planted along the spring run to restore natural habitat and prevent erosion. FWC will monitor survival of vegetation and habitat improvements.

“The deeper, relatively stagnant waters of a pond system supports a different vegetation community, and provides habitat for a different suite of fish and wildlife species than the shallow flowing waters of a spring run,” said Patrick McCord, project manager for FWC. “We’re working to restore the natural hydrology of the system, which in turn will support important habitat communities that are associated with a spring run.”

McCord said FWC is pleased to partner with the District on a restoration project of this nature.

“The vast majority of projects that FWC is involved with are focused on managing the impacts that human disturbance and landscape alteration has on habitat quality. At Bell Springs we have an opportunity to remove the source of disturbance from the landscape altogether, and actually restore a natural system back to the way nature intended it to be,” said McCord. “We don’t run across very many opportunities to do true restoration like this. We’re very pleased to be working with the District on a common goal of springs restoration.”

“The District appreciates the opportunity to partner with FWC to achieve restoration of the ecological integrity of Bell Springs, which will yield benefits to the public through enhancement of fish and wildlife habitat and restoration of the natural hydrology,” said District Executive Director Ann Shortelle.

The FWC provided funding for the topographic survey, construction services and planting of native trees and ground-cover vegetation for the project. The District provided the engineering and design for the site plans, the construction specifications and drawings, and secured all permits for the construction activities.

During construction, the Bell Springs Tract will be closed. The construction phase of the project is scheduled for completion in a few weeks.

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