Weeki Wachee Spring
Summary of Features
- Scale—1st magnitude
- How Pristine?—developed attraction area adjacent to major highway, elevated levels of nitrate and other pollutants in water
- Swimming—not at spring, very good at adjacent waterslide attraction area. Snorkeling downstream in run.
- Protection—state park
- Crowds—heavy on warm days
- Cost—fee to enter attractions
Panorama of spring basin from parking area, with view of underwater mermaid theater in background.
At intersection of U.S. 19 and State Road 50 in Hernando County.
The main spring at Weeki Wachee forms a large oval with dimensions of approximately 150 feet by 250 feet. Water flows from a large limestone opening that had been explored by divers to a depth of 200 feet. According to Sinclair (1977), there is a cavern system associated with the spring. Overall, the spring pool is funnel-shaped, with areas of exposed limestone, very clear blue water, and algae on the rocks and the sandy bottom areas. A retaining wall surrounds nearly all of the spring pool, and there is an underwater theatre/observatory on the south side of the pool. Rosenau et al. (1977) identify other springs near the main spring, including Little Springs, Unknown Spring No. 3, and flows from the bed of the spring run/river. The average daily discharge over the period of 1917 to 1974 was 176 cubic feet per second, or about 114 million gallons per day. Water from the spring forms a river that flows several miles west to the Gulf of Mexico. The river varies in width and depth and passes through areas of forest, some development, 2-3 parks, and becomes estuary-like as it approaches the Gulf.
- For many years, the spring was owned by the City of St. Petersburg. One reason for the purchase was to use water from the spring, if needed, for the city. However, the city never used water from the spring or its run, and the spring came into state hands in 2000.
- The site is now a Florida State Park (web link: https://weekiwachee.com/), with mermaid shows, wildlife shows, and a riverboat cruise
- Weeki Wachee is a longtime and famous roadside attraction, going back to the late 1940s. Its feature attraction is a live mermaid show. Several times each day, young women in mermaid costumes breathe from air hoses and enact a submerged rendition of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. Audiences view the performances from an underwater theater observatory. The performers can hear the recorded music and dialogue through the water.
- There is no swimming in the springhead.
- To deal with rising levels of pollutants in the spring caused by surface runoff (only 5% of the spring's surface water springshed remains in a natural condition), the SW Florida Water Management District "initiated a project whose objective is to effect volume control and quality improvement of stormwater runoff entering the headspring. Agressive runoff pollutant load reductions in suspended solids of 90%, nitrate-nitrogen of 75%, total nitrogen of 75%, and total phosphorus of 80% in the stormwater entering the headspring and river have been targeted" (Dooris et al., in Abstracts of . . . 2003, p. 12).
- See the newspaper story below about dredging done at the spring.
- In the 1990s, there was a bird rehabilitation sanctuary just below the attraction. Seabirds, including pelicans, gulls, and other waterfowl (but mostly pelicans), were cared for at the site and then released. Because they were fed by the Weeki Wachee tour boats, however, many stayed and the area was populated by an unnaturally high and (and aggressive) number of pelicans. The rehabilitation facility has since closed or moved to another location.
- There is evidence that Indians used the site. The name of the spring is derived form the Indian word for "little spring."
Weeki Wachee is a renowned slice of Florida history and kitsch. Although the mermaid shows and waterslides are most unnatural uses of the spring, the site nonetheless has a unique and appealing character.
- Chassahowitzka Springs
- Crystal River Spring Group
- Homosassa Springs
- Salt Spring
- Tarpon Spring
Other Nearby Natural Features
- Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area
- Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park
- Withlacoochie State Forest
- Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge
- Crystal River State Archeological Site
6131 Commercial Way
Spring Hill, FL 34606
February 26, 2004 story about Weeki Wachee Springs in the St. Petersburg Times:
River work is done annually, park says
Weeki Wachee officials say the equipment seen last weekend is part
of the annual preparation for the Buccaneer Bay water park.
By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
WEEKI WACHEE - Weeki Wachee Springs officials said Wednesday they didn't know the park needed environmental permits or its landlord's approval to run heavy equipment in the Weeki Wachee River.
General manager Robyn Anderson and marketing director John Athanason said the backhoe seen in the river over the weekend was removing sand that had washed into the river from the beach at the Buccaneer Bay water park. They say such beach recovery work has been part of annual preparations for the opening of Buccaneer Bay for years. So long, in fact, Athanason said it was assumed no permits were needed. "We didn't know any better basically," he said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection Wednesday opened an investigation that will examine the permitting issue.
Meanwhile, the Southwest Florida Water Management District - which owns the land around the spring and leases it to Weeki Wachee Springs - says the work violated the terms of Weeki Wachee's lease. Now Swiftmud, as the agency is known, is deciding what to do about it. Among the options Swiftmud is considering is the termination of the lease, which would force Weeki Wachee Springs to close.
Both Swiftmud and the DEP plan to discuss the matter next week with Weeki Wachee officials.
The work, which Swiftmud has described as a "dredge and fill operation," occurred less than 50 yards from the headspring that is one of the 65 largest natural springs in America. The river itself was recently designated a Florida Outstanding Water.
Some of the work was conducted in daylight, as evidenced by an amateur video that was presented to the Times and delivered anonymously to Swiftmud. But a Times reporter, acting on a tip, also saw work being done after dark on Saturday night.
Anderson said nothing sneaky was going on and burning the midnight oil is routine in the weeks leading up to the opening of Buccaneer Bay. "I have guys working until one or two in the morning," she said. "We have people working around the clock."
Anderson and Athanason say removing the sand was done to protect the river - since sedimentation downstream and in the spring itself is already a problem. They said the state stopped allowing the park to bring in new sand for the beach several years ago because of sedimentation. Both say the erosion is a result of water runoff from U.S. 19 and is beyond the park's control. Indeed, a trail carved by moving water sloped downhill Wednesday from the park's boundary along the highway to 2-feet deep ruts near the Buccaneer Bay beach.
Regardless of the cause, Weeki Wachee's lease says it must seek Swiftmud's written approval and proper permits for any activities that impact the river. That includes "dredging and filling; beach renourishment, or construction," according to the lease.
Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan said Wednesday those steps were not taken and Swiftmud staffers are discussing what to do about it. A day earlier, angry Swiftmud governing board members called for Weeki Wachee's head.
Anderson and Athanason said they realize Swiftmud board members are angry. But they say Swiftmud's board is always angry with Weeki Wachee. They say it stems from the failure by the attraction's prior ownership group to remedy problems at the park.
"I would hope they wouldn't terminate the lease," Anderson said.
Attorney Joe Mason, who represents the tourist attraction and the city of Weeki Wachee, said the uproar about the weekend construction was largely "a paperwork issue."
It is not a serious issue in terms of substance, but it is a violation," he said.
Mason said it is understandable that Swiftmud's board is upset. And he admitted that Weeki Wachee failed by not seeking the proper permits and authorization. But he said Weeki Wachee's staff at the park have learned from a mistake he deemed "rather innocent."
"It's an unfortunate issue from a PR standpoint. And the paperwork wasn't done. But it's not anything of any great significance," Mason said.
- Robert King covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org