A sinkhole opened up Friday underneath a fertilizer factory in central Florida, dumping millions of gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan Aquifer. This is the latest in a string of issues that has scientists worried about the health of the state’s primary water source.
The Floridan Aquifer is an underground system of streams, flowing through limestone caverns, spanning the entire state. And it’s the source of fresh water for millions of people. For years, water levels in the aquifer have been slipping, sending shock waves through delicately balanced ecosystems in springs and sinkholes. Geologist Todd Kincaid says due to sea level rise and changes in flow levels, saltwater is now posing a threat to the aquifer. In the case of one North Florida sinkhole, Kincaid says saltwater is now flowing in, instead of freshwater.
“Salinity at Punch Bowl Sink, this is a big one, goes to sea water level. It goes to completely salt water. Punch Bowl Sink is about three miles inland from the coast. So saltwater is moving through the conduit system as far as three miles inland. And it does it in about a day. That’s about how fast it goes,” he said.
But saltwater intrusion isn’t the only threat; Kincaid says nitrate runoff from wastewater plants and farms must be addressed. Kincaid also says the scientific models that track the aquifer are decades out of date, overestimating water levels and underestimating the effect of human consumption.