Art Jones/For the Chronicle Sep 18, 2022
I like this year’s theme, “Preserve our waters, plan smartly.” For years, I did not recognize that one of the smartest things I have done in my life was to get the cleanup of our waters started, one rake at a time. My plan worked as I envisioned.
Our springs, rivers and lakes along the Nature Coast are truly beautiful wonders of nature; especially here in Citrus County. We are so lucky to have so much water all around us.
When I first came to Crystal River, it was kind of depressing to see nobody doing anything to clean up King’s Bay except for the county harvester program that was keeping the boat channels open. It looked like something needed to be done so I took rake in hand and started cleaning along the shoreline, one rake full of Lyngbya algae removed at a time, day after day, week after week.
As time went on, the skeptics that said it was useless became fewer and fewer. More and more people started helping me in my quest to restore the white sand bottoms and to make the public swimming areas inviting again. Fast forward to today and a miracle has happened. A once dying Kings Bay is growing and thriving again and the Homosassa River is not far behind.
The reasons to save our waters are many. My favorite reason is our kids. I believe our children are never happier then when they get a day to swim or kayak in the springs or float down a crystal clear spring fed river like our beautiful Rainbow River. They line up at dawn just to get a chance to rent a big inner tube and just float down the Rainbow River for hours.
As people kayak or float down the river, one can see the joy in their faces as they talk and laugh all the way down the cool refreshing river during a hot summer day. Children of all ages can let their worries disappear and just enjoy being alive on this beautiful planet earth and the magnificent waters we have here in Citrus County.
So, let’s do some smarter planning to preserve our waters.
Citrus County is known to have seven rivers. I count the Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka, Withlacoochee, Halls, Indian and Rainbow rivers. Others count the Salt and St. Martins rivers, but to me they are more like salt water estuaries, not fresh water rivers.
Nonetheless, all of these waters are equally important and we should look at all of them at the same time as to what is the smartest way to manage all of them together as they all feed and bring life to Citrus County.
Each waterway has its own character.
The mighty Withlacoochee River is a big surface water river that is also fed by crystal clear spring water as it moves along the east border of Citrus County, wraps to the northern border of Citrus County, and goes west to pick up the Rainbow River form Lake Rousseau before going on the Gulf of Mexico.
The Rainbow River is 5.7 miles long, starting in Marion County before flowing into the Withlacoochee River, heading for the Gulf of Mexico.
The Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka, Halls, and Indian rivers are all short, tidally influenced spring fed rivers that sit along our west coast. The beauty is one can go directly from these rivers out to the Gulf of Mexico, making them coastal ports, harbors and marinas.
So, as we look at all of the waters of Citrus County collectively, what is the most common problem we face? I say it is invasive weeds and algae. These are a big problem in all our waters.
Hydrilla, which may appear to be a nice fernlike water plant, puts oxygen into the water and grows so fast that it tops out above the water in dense mats choking out other native plants,
slowing down the water flow to the point that nobody will be able to tube, kayak, paddleboard, fish, swim, or recreational boat, if left unchecked.
Hydrilla will also destroy the habitat of the manatees, otters, turtles, fish, birds and even alligators. It will create stagnant water full of mosquitoes. And then, the horrible Lyngbya algae will move in.
So, what is the best way to manage invasive weeds? Physically removing them wherever possible and replanting native plants. This is finally happening in the Crystal and Homosassa rivers today, is working great, and needs to expand to all our local rivers and lakes.
I understand that government agencies have no choice but to spray invasive weeds as they will kill our waters faster than anything else. But please, isn’t there a way to make a rule that says “if you spray it, you must remove it?”
That way our waters are not left full of dying vegetation that turns into silt and muck, making matters worse. There is no getting around the fact that eventually all that silt and muck needs to be removed to save our waters.
We have proven here in Citrus Country that we have learned how to do it right. We work with a public/private partnership to get things done that neither side can do alone. Our strength is unity of purpose. We want to leave our waters better than we found them.
Let’s keep the momentum going. Let our generation be a good role model for our children and the rest of Florida.
I am working on a project now to save the Rainbow River. I am out there just about every day cleaning out Hydrilla and Lyngbya algae, one rake full at a time. But we need a bigger rake. We need to diver vacuum up all the silt, muck and rotting plants in the deep areas to replant eelgrass like we are doing in the Crystal River and Homosassa rivers.
More restoration is the smartest thing we can do to keep our waters and especially our beautiful Rainbow River from further decline. We don’t want to see the Rainbow get as bad as the Crystal River and Homosassa rivers before taking action.
In the face of many doubters, we have proved in Crystal River and Kings Bay that when the community comes together we can reverse the decline. We can save our waters by removing the silt, muck, Hydrilla and Lyngbya algae and replanting eelgrass. We can also save the Rainbow river from further decline and restore it back to a healthy sustainable ecosystem like it was years ago.
Together we can do this. We have a new website that shows and explains the science, process and plan in detail. I urge everybody to check it out at (https://OneRakeataTime.org) and please help if you can.
I love the waters of Citrus County and am so proud of what our community has accomplished and have faith that we will keep it going.
Art Jones is the Founder and President, One Rake at a Time Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to saving our waters.