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Volunteering with the Springs Institute on the Rainbow River

Springs Institute Team Studying the Water

Springs Institute Team Studying the Water

This morning I volunteered with the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute Team on the Rainbow River.  The work they do collecting data is invaluable, because without baseline's there is no way human impact can be measured nor can the health of rivers and springs be accurately assessed.  Before coming out, I had no idea how time consuming and intricate these assessments are, and I was only present for the morning of the first day of a two-week measuring period.  I am hoping to return a couple more times to see first-hand exactly what these scientists and volunteers do.  This morning they were measuring oxygen levels, visibility, turgidity, plant colonies, snails, human impact, and water levels among other things.  

Reading Water Quality Data

Reading Water Quality Data

I was on the boat recording water quality data.  New devices had to be anchored in locked boxes in locations that got sufficient flow but were out of the way of boats and other human impact. Much of the work they do involves jumping off the boat and getting in the water to install devices or assess visibility.

Recording Data

Recording Data

It takes teams to gather and record data and navigate the boats.  If you are interested in helping with water quality efforts in North and Central Florida, contact the Springs Institute for future volunteer opportunities.  In addition to water quality measurements, they record species of fish, birds, turtles, and other creatures along the riparian banks.

Dropping an Insect Trap

Dropping an Insect Trap

Insects are a barometer of the health of rivers.  This pyramid traps bugs.  Scientists later study cross sections under microscopes and estimate populations.

Rainbow River with Turtles

Rainbow River with Turtles

Though there are houses along the Rainbow River, portions of it are wild and beautiful.  The eel grasses are visible beneath the surface and according to one volunteer who lives along the river the increased flow this year has washed much of the algae clean. Still, the visibility levels recording today were below 30 feet compared with up to 200 near the headwaters.  I never realized until riding in the boat with these scientists exactly how much particulate matter has infiltrated our rivers and springs.

Turtles on Floating Grass Islands

Turtles on Floating Grass Islands

Tubers have an impact on rivers too.  There are places were they get out of their tubes and accidentally rip the grasses out by their roots.  These grasses clump together and form mini islands, which these turtles used to congregate on.

Rainbow Springs Headwaters

Rainbow Springs Headwaters

After my morning on the boat, I decided to stop by the headwaters and go for a swim.  The springs were far less crowded than the last time I ventured there on a weekend.  The clearer bluish-green color of spring vents is always striking. Here, there were lots of grasses near the headwaters I am tying to collect as many photographs of springs and rivers as I can, so that I can record the color, amount of vegetation, algae, etc and compare that from year to year.  The best hope of educating the public about why we need to protect our valuable waterways is by having water quality data, records of ecosystems, and photographs of the riparian environments on hand to study and compare over time. 

Rainbow River Before the Storm

Rainbow River Before the Storm

This image was made from the walkway looking downriver.  I was surprised by the prolific amount of vegetation and curious as to whether it was invasive or native.  I also remembered that even native plants can become  overgrown and cause problems. I will be interested to see the results from the Florida Springs Institute Study, so I can more adequately assess the health of this waterway.  My initial impression was that it is healthier than many rivers I have visited as I didn't come across any green slime and there were places where the grasses weren't covered in algae.  Yet, I am sure the Rainbow River faces its own issues and needs protection as all waterways in Florida do.

Rainbow Springs Waterfall

Rainbow Springs Waterfall

The Rainbow Springs Waterfalls were manmade in the 1930s as part of an attraction and flow from the Springs is diverted to keep them trickling.  Even though they were artificially constructed, the waterfalls are still beautiful to look at and I couldn't help including a photograph here.