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Senator Keith Perry, DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein and Environmental Leaders Tour Critical Land Conservation Projects in the Suwannee Valley

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 9, 2020

Canaan Ranch 2

Suwannee River Water Management District and Alachua Conservation Trust present on how the land in this area is vital to the health of the Floridan Aquifer.

GILCHRIST COUNTY, Fla. – Senator Keith Perry, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein and other environmental leaders recently visited several land acquisition projects in the Suwannee Valley, which illustrate the importance of land conservation and its role in protecting Florida’s springs.  

The day included a visit to Gilchrist County’s Bell Ridge Sandhills site located within the Devil’s Ear Spring Priority Focus Area – a 3,000-acre grassland ecosystem with a critical role in water recharge of the Floridan Aquifer. This land is proposed to be preserved through a conservation easement funded in part by the Florida Forever program, springs funding through the Suwannee River Water Management District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the continued protection of these vital lands and resources. 

Attendees also participated in a paddle tour led by local paddle legend Lars Anderson. The group began at Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs, Florida’s newest state park. The group then made their way to Sawdust Spring, another property located within the Devil’s Ear Spring Priority Focus Area. Recently acquired in partnership with DEP, Alachua Conservation Trust, Suwannee River Water Management District and other local partners, the 163-acre parcel encompasses the spring and nearly a mile of shoreline along the Santa Fe River, an Outstanding Florida Water. 

Springs are the window into the health of Florida's groundwater. DEP protects the vital springs resources through a variety of funding programs, including Florida Forever, the state’s premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition program. Through Florida Forever and other programs, environmental partners at the federal, state and local level are working to better protect Florida’s springs and other natural resources. During the site visits, environmental leaders discussed the importance of stakeholder partnerships in ensuring the conservation of lands for habitat protection, aquifer recharge and water quality statewide.  

“Our springs are a litmus test for Florida’s water quality; they are the barometer of the effectiveness of our land management activities,” said DEP Secretary Valenstein. “What happens on the land can affect our groundwater, creating a ripple effect that impacts every component of our environment. Protecting and preserving Florida’s natural and rural lands is a critical step in ensuring our key ecosystems are allowed to flourish. These projects highlight the importance of science-based decisions for land conservation and efforts to preserve one of Florida’s unique natural resources.” 

“When you check out the springs in North Central Florida, especially my Senate District 8, you will explore locations that are home to caves, scenic dives and you can even be an amateur archaeologist in the springs. You will see one of the first-magnitude springs, which are the largest artesian springs ever discovered," said Senator Keith Perry of Gainesville. "The springs, lakes and rivers are not only important to our ecosystem but they also provide educational and recreational opportunities through these investments in preservation and conservation."

“Land acquisition within the Santa Fe River springshed is an essential part of improving water quality and water supply within the river and surrounding areas. The acquisitions will decrease nutrient loading and protect recharge to the Floridan Aquifer,” said Hugh Thomas, executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District. “Not only will the projects preserve our water resources, but the acquisitions will protect the habitat and wildlife that rely on these unique ecosystems to survive. We are grateful to Governor DeSantis and Secretary Valenstein for selecting these sensitive lands to be preserved and for our partners in supporting the funding for these properties. These acquisitions are a step forward in protecting our water resources for future generations.” 

“These projects are a great example of public and private partnerships working together to protect and improve the water resources of the Suwannee Valley,” noted Tom Kay, executive director of the Alachua Conservation Trust. “ACT is honored to be a part of this much larger effort to ensure the Santa Fe River watershed remains a viable and healthy conservation corridor providing clean water and many recreational opportunities. Working with landowners in these high aquifer recharge areas to conserve strategic properties in the region through conservation easements and acquisitions is one of the most cost-effective ways to keep our springs, rivers and drinking water healthy.”  

“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is proud of our partnership with DEP, the Suwannee River Water Management District and other partners including the many private landowners providing not only prized springs protection, but also valuable fish and wildlife habitat across the region,” said Eric Sutton, FWC executive director. 

At Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, Senator Perry discusses the connection between land conservation and springs protection with Secretary Valenstein and ACT Executive Director Tom Kay.