On July 19, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the spring protection zone for Weeki Wachee, which restricts beaching, mooring, anchoring and grounding of vessels on the spring run of the Weeki Wachee River extending from the spring boil within Weeki Wachee Springs State Park to the Rogers Park Boat Ramp.
This is the first spring protection zone for a major spring run in Florida, and it is a necessary step to protect the ecology and beauty of the river. Florida Springs Council believes in finding the balance between enjoying the places we all love while finding ways to protect them for future generations. The springs protection zone is a small sacrifice we can make to ensure our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy what makes Florida so special!
Why does Weeki Wachee need a spring protection zone?
Hernando County provided a 2019 vessel impact study to FWC and the commission’s presentation references six different studies, including the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s 2020 Weeki Wachee Natural System Carrying Capacity Study, that show the degradation and harm to the spring run due to vessel activity. You can find the Carrying Capacity study here.
FWC held three public meetings and accepted public comments before approving the rule.
What does this mean for those who wish to explore Weeki Wachee?
You are still welcome and encouraged to visit and paddle the river. Although this rule will prohibit beaching, mooring, anchoring and grounding of vessels on the spring run, visitors can still paddle, swim and tube. FWC’s presentation from the July 19 commission meeting explains, “This spring protection zone would not alter the public’s access to the spring or the spring’s associated spring runs.” FWC says, “The zone will not regulate the activities of people. Shown [to the right] are two activities which would not be prohibited by the proposed spring protection zone.” You can view the presentation here.
Get Up and go Weeki Wachee owner and guide Taylor broke down some of the misconceptions about the spring protection zone before the final meeting. If you have questions about the rule, check out Taylor’s post here.
Jill Lingard, the lead volunteer for the Weeki Wachee SpringsWatch team, kayak instructor and former President of Florida Paddling Trails: "What a small price to pay to help rescue such a magical place! I want future generations of visitors to enjoy this spring-fed jewel as much as I have and the wildlife that depends on these waters for survival to be able to continue to do so.”
In 2021, FSC worked with our members and FWC staff to draft a strong spring protection zone rule intended to prevent harm from boating and recreation to springs and spring runs.
The original spring protection zone rule proposed for Weeki Wachee would have protected a 2.3 mile segment of the river from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park to Rogers Park.
Even though the proposal was supported by Hernando County, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the Department of Environmental Protection, it was weakened to include only 20 already-degraded spots along the river. Approving this plan would not have protected Weeki Wachee, it would just move the problem from one spot of shoreline to the next.
So FSC joined the Florida Native Plant Society, Sierra Club Florida, and local residents to ask FWC to approve the zone as originally proposed.
FWC Commissioners listened and instructed staff to return at the final meeting in July with a stronger protection zone in line with what we have recommended.
After considering public comments, FWC has approved the final proposal, which was in line with our recommendations. FWC’s decision on the springs protection zone shows careful consideration and care of Florida’s environment. We appreciate the commissioners for listening to the suggestions of several environmental groups and the community.
As a Florida paddler for more than 25 years, there's nowhere I'd rather be than a spring-fed run. Clear turquoise waters, stately Cypress trees lining river banks with their knees standing at attention, Great Blue Herons stalking their prey along the shore while Kingfishers flitter about in the tree canopy above, an occasional manatee floating to the surface to breathe...it's like paddling in a painting of Old Florida. The Weeki Wachee River offers all this and more. Unfortunately for its ecological health, that "more" includes an increasing number of people and our actions while on the river.
Through Weeki Wachee SpringsWatch, I've had a front row seat to the degradation of this river every month for six years. Visitors exiting their boats and paddle craft to hang out on sandbars have stomped away submerged vegetation below the state park, impacting water clarity and the stability of the river's bottom and banks. Years ago, I too used to occasionally get out of my kayak to swim or snorkel. I later learned the impact of my actions and stopped doing that. With the proposed Springs Protection Zone, I now have an opportunity to help support restoration of the Weeki Wachee simply by staying in my kayak or on my paddleboard. What a small price to pay to help rescue such a magical place! I want future generations of visitors to enjoy this spring-fed jewel as much as I have and the wildlife that depends on these waters for survival to be able to continue to do so.”