Study: Weeki Wachee River damaged by crowds and tourism

Hernando County

SPRING HILL, Fla. (WFLA) – How much is too much when it comes to a good thing? If you’re talking about the wildly popular Weeki Wachee River, too many people is too much, according to recent study commissioned by Hernando County.

Growing popularity, the study showed, has led to excessive erosion of a once-thriving economic area. People love this area, and it’s become one of the hottest spots in the state. But, tourism and popularity come with a price.

So, how do you fix the damage already done?

The study was conducted by Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions of Tampa in an effort to examine just how much the site has sustained over the years as usage has increased.

The answer? Quite a bit.

The county is looking into ways to solve this problem involving erosion and damage to one of the state’s greatest treasures.

When the results of the study were released, it sparked a controversial debate. Should there be rules and regulations put into place limiting public usage of the river? Should there be restrictions placed on boats, kayaks or jet skis’s?

8 on Your Side is asking – what’s the best way to keep this waterway pristine? A public meeting will be held in early February for residents to share their thoughts and opinions on the matter.

Susanna Martinez-Tarokh, Public Information Officer for Southwest Florida Water Management, told 8 on Your Side, “The focus will be to balance recreation needs and to protect the natural systems functions of the river.”

Those who spend time there say it’s simple, show mother nature some respect.

But, environmental experts tell us, for this river, it may be too late.

The river, itself, is certainly considered a paradise within a paradise, a geographical gem within one of Florida’s most famous waterways. It is known for being crystal clear with a front-row seat, providing a one-on-one with wildlife and nature.

“It’s just relaxing, you know, after a day’s work, no cell phones, just go up the river. It’s relaxing,” said longtime resident, Marty Wayno. “The Weeki Wachee river is great. To relax, take in the views, look at nature.”

Marty says he doesn’t see the need for rules and restrictions on the river. “Just leave it alone. To me, it’s not broke, there’s nothing to fix,” he told us.

For nature enthusiast Bill Sutton, it’s a precarious situation.

“It’s one of my favorites, but it does get a lot of traffic,” Bill admits. He sees both sides of the issue, especially since the river is suffering in some spots when it comes to erosion.

But, Bill also says, he doesn’t want access limited. He wants local youth to enjoy the river while growing up in this area. “I think it’s a situation where we can find a happy medium and keep it accessible,” Bill said.

According to Southwest Florida Water Management, the draft report documents can be read here.

The public information officer tells 8 on Your Side, there will be an inter- agency draft report review meeting Dec. 19 with agency stakeholders to receive and discuss their comments on the draft report.

After that meeting, the agency will consider all of the comments and discussion and provide direction to our consultant to finalize the draft report with mid-January as our target. 

One of the recommendations is to form an agency working group that would further define roles and responsibilities, any actions, funding needs etc. The report lays out scientific evidence of recreational impacts on the river, which is the basis for management actions that would be further explored with an agency working group as recommended in the report. There are number of management decisions and actions to consider, along with funding needs and education.

A public meeting is being scheduled for early February to present the results of the study and to receive public comments. The agency says it is working to secure a location.

“We fully expect for the public to be engaged and there will continue to be a process throughout this effort to solicit feedback from the public. The focus will be to balance recreation needs and to protect the natural systems functions of the river,” the public information officer told 8 on Your Side. “As mentioned in the report, it is not just the number of users on the river, it is cumulative effect of the activities of the users. The District believes both need to be considered together. Also, it is important to note, this project was led by the District with funding support by Hernando County. The District and the County each contributed half of the cost. The District has worked closely with Hernando County throughout the project.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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