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District awarded federal grant to test new strategy for springs restoration

HAVANA – The Northwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board approved entering into an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement a program that demonstrates how nutrients discharged from agricultural operations can be captured and re-used on site.

As part of the agreement, the EPA will provide up to $959,754 in grant funding to initiate the program. The District will contract with the University of Florida for up to $247,830 for technical services for the project, and will also issue a request for proposals for a contractor to conduct algae harvesting and associated services.

“This is the type of innovative thinking we need to embrace as we continue to find ways to protect and preserve the precious natural resources in northwest Florida,” said George Roberts, Chairman of the District’s Governing Board. “We have had tremendous success with our Best Management Practices program for agricultural producers in Jackson County and we look forward to expanding our efforts to work with growers in other areas of the District.”

The program will first work with an agricultural operation in Gadsden County, such as a nursery, to capture nutrient-rich algal biomass from surface runoff. Samples of the algae will then be sent to the University of Florida, where scientists will determine the best method to repurpose it as fertilizer and, in the process, minimize a nonpoint pollution source.

This approach is expected to enable growers to implement a closed-loop process to consolidate the algal biomass on site, re-use it as fertilizer, reduce the use of commercial fertilizers, and minimize potential non-point pollution sources.

The project area is within two regional watersheds and is also within the groundwater contribution area for Wakulla Spring. By demonstrating innovative agricultural best management practices, the project will help implement District Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) plans.

“This innovative strategy gives us another tool to help improve the stewardship of water resources in our area,” Governing Board member Kellie Ralston said. “As technology continues to advance, we will continue to seek out this type of innovation to help protect our rivers and springs.”