Coastal River Systems
Crystal River/ Kings Bay
Crystal River/Kings Bay is a complex network of more than 40 springs. The discharge from this first
magnitude spring system accounts for 99 percent of the fresh waterWater that is relatively free of salts. entering the 600-acre Kings Bay. Crystal River/Kings Bay is Florida's second largest springs system,
discharging more than 975 cubic feet of water per second. Crystal River travels north westward, in line with geologic
fracture sets and fault lines, before entering the Gulf of Mexico. See the page on Aquifers,
and, Aquifers / Citrus County and, Aquifers
Aerial photographs taken in the early 1970s clearly indicate that a source of water was originally from the west as
sheet flow from the wetlands, now known as Saint Martins Preserve. Alluvial deposits reveal several paths of this flow.
However, the building of SR 44 West, without sufficient culverts, for all practical purposes has stopped that flow . See
aerial photo and text on the South Kings Bay page.
Cutting canals, dredging and filling in order to create residential properties of Crystal River City, seriously
diminished other wetland sheet flows. Extensive wetland forest was simply cleared by drag-line and burned to make way
for the housing in the southerly sections of Kings Bay.
However, additional tributaries conveying waters from the aquifer underground, issue from many springs to make
Crystal River/Kings Bay the largest spring fed estuarine waterway in the nation, and most probably in the world.
Citrus County sits at the confluence of two principal water flows, originating from the southeast in Polk County and
from the northeast in Putnam County. Aquifer waters at higher pressures flow to areas of lower pressures within the
porous limestone rock formations (known as artesian or piezometric flows).
Also, as Florida emerged from the sea, and rocks were formed several million years ago, stress caused fissures or
fractures in the rocks. When the artesian flows encounter a fracture or set of fractures, the water takes the path of
least resistance and joins the direction of flow in the fracture set. The fracture sets vary in direction and length, up
to sixty miles long and occupy a width up to a thousand feet and more.
These underground tributaries emerge to join surface waterways at spring vents. Tributaries can join from various
directions and deliver waters of differing quality depending upon the path taken on the way by the tributary waters.
Tributaries often account for directional changes to the waterway. A main Crystal River (underground) tributary from
the southeast, issuing from some forty spring vents, accounts for the direction of flow towards Bagley Cove (approximately
SE to NW). A second tributary enters from the northeast by way of Hunter Spring Run together with several nearby spring
vents, causing a westerly change in direction, assisted by an underground flow emerging in Bagley Cove. Tidal counter
flows of the Salt River cause a northerly change of direction. A big spring off of the Crystal River State
Archaeological Site encourages a more westerly flow. Kings Creek and Dolphin Creek cause a westerly shift, after which
the river straightens out to flow past Shell Island and out into the Gulf.
The image below shows photo lineaments derived from the aerial survey conducted in 1972/3, confirming findings of Dr
Vernon in 1951, and Dr Faulkner in 1973. The survey information was, until very recently, lost to history. The paths of
the lineaments have been affirmed by Latitude and Longitude, computed with respect to lineaments and auto-plotting
official database information with respect to sinkhole and spring vent locations. The red lines are courtesy the
University of Georgia representing findings of Dr Vernon as recorded in FGS Bulletin 33 Figure 11. Other lineaments are
from the 2009 Groundwater Flows document complemented by work of the University of Georgia and used to derive the Kings
Bay Fractures below. Click on the picture for a larger view.
|Citrus and Levy County Fractures
The dark red SE to NW trending lines in the the vicinity Crystal River/Kings Bay
represent the probable jointing fractures indicated by Dr Vernon's research. The circles show the spring positions
(those for Crystal River/Kings Bay are shown on the image below).
|Kings Bay Fractures
The SE to NW dark red parallel lines (the Vernon fracture lines, as shown in ‘Citrus/Levy
County Fractures’, above) encompass a major tributary underground flow, through fractures, into Kings Bay to
discharge from spring vents. The NE to SW trending light green parallel lines which
connect from the Rainbow River springs group suggests a second fresh water tributary (six sink holes are also located
on the lineament). The light green lines passing through identified Kings Bay springs
and sink holes (not shown) tend to confirm the path as a significant tributary of the river system.
The Water Management District plans to develop information to further qualify connecting paths. Work continues to
affirm additional fracture paths and conduit flows. Both Dr Vernon and Dr Faulkner emphasize the need to protect
these underground flows to preserve aquifer water quality. Such a plan could confirm where intersecting
lineaments and therefore the suggested Spring conduitsUnderground water flow within a dissolution void or fissure conveying the water volume to a Spring vent.
actually physically trend from the southeast or from the northeast, (for example, in association with spring vents #34,
referred to in the Vanesse Hangen Brusstlin 2009 Inventory report, as Dave's Quest Springs).
Land-Use Changes and Impacts
Extensive dredge-and-fill activities beginning in the 1960s altered much of Kings Bay and portions of the Crystal
River shorelines. Numerous sea walls and dead-end canal systems were created to provide residential and commercial boat
access. These activities changed water circulation and reduced the amount of natural wetlands.
From 1970 to 2000, the population of Citrus County grew from 19,196 to 118,085. Currently, forty percent of the
contributing watershed/springshed of Crystal River/Kings Bay is urbanized.
Recognizing the need to provide some protection of the waters, the state designated Crystal River/Kings Bay as an
Outstanding Florida Water in 1983. In 1989, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) designated the
area as a Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Priority Water Body. A SWIM Plan was developed to identify
management issues and actions necessary to restore and protect Crystal River/Kings Bay. See the legal
Reportedly, more than $2million have been applied to these studies over several years to produce conclusions that
are questioned by those of the local community who regularly use the River resources. Some conclusions, drawn from
published information are given below for information.
Overall, nutrient levels in Kings Bay are considered relatively low compared to springs systems in more developed
areas of the Springs Coast region. However, current nutrient levels are probably higher than levels before human
development. Spring discharge, wastewaterUsed domestic water for disposal, from baths, showers, toilets, washing machines and the like effluent, septic
tank leaching and stormwater runoffThe topographic flow of water from precipitation to stream channels located at lower elevations. Occurs when the infiltration capacity of an area's soil has been exceeded. It also refers to the water leaving an area of drainage. Also called overland flow. were identified in 1990 as
major sources of nutrientsAny food, chemical element or compound an organism requires to live, grow, or reproduce. by the Florida Department of
Environmental Regulation and the Water Management District.
In 1992, the City of Crystal River (City) stopped discharging effluent from the wastewater treatment plant into Kings
Bay, which removed the second largest contributor of nutrientsAny food, chemical element or compound an organism requires to live, grow, or reproduce.
to the bay. Studies identified the largest contributor of nutrients to the bay as spring discharge from the aquifer,
containing residential and golf course turf fertilizers and septic tank leachateSolution containing material leached from a soil..
These nutrient sources continue to be addressed through stormwater improvement projects and connection of residences to
the City’s sanitary sewer system. However, recent experiments with new technology hold promise of controlling
limiting nutrients in the river run in the foreseeable future.
In 1991, copper and other inorganic pollutantsSomething which contaminates (water, the air, etc.) with harmful or poisonous substances. in bay
sediments were analyzed to learn what, if any, health risks manatees faced from eating plants grown in the affected
sediments. It was thought that the elevated copper levels in the sediments were not high enough to harm the manatees,
and the other tested pollutants were below levels of concern. In 1994, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
analyzed mercurya heavy, silver-white, metallic element, the only metal that is liquid at room temperature; also called quicksilver. A virulent poison, dangerous to handle and work with. levels in largemouth bass in the Crystal
River National Wildlife Refuge. Although not deadly to fish, the mercury could hurt birds feeding on them. Current
advisories, issued by the Florida Department of Health, recommend that women of child-bearing age and young children
avoid eating largemouth bass caught in Crystal River/ Kings Bay and advise others to limit consumption to one fish per
The increase of exotic aquatic plants has long been an issue in the bay. Beginning around 1960, three nuisance
aquatic plants have been introduced to Crystal River/Kings Bay: Hydrilla, Eurasian milfoil and the algal Lyngbya
sp.. Several studies over many years revealed:
Water Clarity and Sediments
Historically, crystal-clear water was a defining characteristic of the bay; however, substantial declines in water
clarity have reportedly occurred since the 1980s. Studies that evaluated water clarity and sediments in Kings Bay, from
1989 to 2004, have provided the following information:
In 1993, sediments were determined to be shallow and fine-grained and moderate in nutrient levels.
Water clarity measured in 2003 – 2004 ranged from 4.8 to 75 feet and was not significantly lower than it was 10
years earlier. Clarity is significantly higher near springs than other areas of the bay.
Open-water areas of the bay were flushed relatively quickly and flushing times were affected by spring discharge.
Factors affecting water clarity included dead and living microscopicToo small for human eyesight without employing a microscope
plants. For example, in the above picture, which shows phytoplanktonSmall photosynthetic organisms, mostly algae and bacteria, found inhabiting aquatic ecosystems. Also see plankton and zooplankton.
growth in Hunter Spring Run, the result of excessive nutrient discharge from springs. The life in the water of
phytoplankton is limited and it dies to join other detritusShed tissues, dead body parts, and waste products of organisms. In most ecosystems, detritus accumulates at the soil surface and other types of surface sediments.
in the sediment where the nutrients remain available to stimulate sub aquatic growth when disturbed.
Removal of sediments around Hunter Spring and Tarpon Hole did not result in long-term improvement in water clarity,
because of the continuing supply of nutrients and spores in spring discharges and from sediment as described above.
Future District projects include an evaluation of changes in bay sediments since 1993 and an effort to identify
sources of chlorophyllGreen pigment found in plants and some bacteria used to capture the energy in light through photosynthesis. in the bay. These projects,
scheduled for initiation in 2005 and 2006, respectively, will determine if sediments have increased in thickness or
become more silty since 1993; if sediments are a source of nutrientsAny food, chemical element or compound an organism requires to live, grow, or reproduce.
to the bay; and which speciesA taxonomic category subordinate to a genus (or subgenus) and superior to a subspecies or variety, composed of individuals possessing common characters distinguishing them from other categories of individuals of the same taxonomic level.
In taxonomic nomenclature, species are designated by the genus name followed by a Latin or Latinized adjective or noun. of algae
in the bay is most common (and most likely to affect water clarity).