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Gainesville’s first ever environmental book club makes a splash in water preservation

Gainesville’s first ever environmental book club makes a splash in water preservation

Ethan LeBlanc (20 years old) wakes up each morning looking forward to seeing the sights of one of Florida’s clearest springs.

He has been getting up at 5:20 am every morning for the past two years to prepare for his daily 50-minute commute from Gainesville to Ginnie Springs. He said that his passion for the springs drove him to become the shift manager and rentals manager at Ginnie Springs Outdoors.

Every visitor who visits the springs is faced with worries. He worries about water consumption and overuse of water bottles. LeBlanc claimed that he has seen a slight decrease in water consumption over his two years at springs.

LeBlanc stated that he felt guilty for not being able to stand up for environmental justice causes. He has now found a way of standing up for the environment.

Our Santa Fe River is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that created an environmental book club to bring together North Florida residents such as LeBlanc who are concerned with water access and pollution. This is the first environmental-focused book club in Gainesville and aims to advocate for environmental causes through reading and open discussions.

David Vaina, one the 10 Our Santa Fe River board member, came up with the idea. He set out to educate others on the Santa Fe River’s health and the springs it relies upon.

Vaina said that the Santa Fe River faces both qualitative and quantitative challenges. Pollution is a major problem, mostly from big agriculture but also from people who fertilize their lawns. These land uses cause a lot nitrogen overload which can harm water quality. Algae grow rapidly on these areas, making it impossible for aquatic organisms. There is also a drop in water oxygen levels.

Vaina stated that water use is increasing as the area grows. The organization promotes water conservation on a larger scale than just individuals, such as in large cities, counties, and big farms.

Vaina stated that having information about how to keep rivers safe is important for both the river and the book club members.

Merrillee MalwitzJipson is a founding member of the Our Santa Fe River board. She owns a canoe- and kayak rental service, as well as Rum138, a local restaurant on the Santa Fe River. Malwitz-Jipson sees the environmental book club as a place where like-minded people can gather and spread awareness about environment.

Malwitz-Jipson stated that we were just trying to find people with the same mindset and who value the opportunity to read books that can be used in our personal lives as well as at work.

The first meeting of the book clubs took place in the outdoor section at the First Magnitude Brewing Company, near downtown Gainesville. Robin Wall Kimmerer led the discussion on Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings Of Plants.

The initial meeting was attended by about 20 people. Moderator Sarah Younger (chair of The Suwannee St. Johns Group Sierra Club), a non-profit organization that affects public policy and protects the state’s natural resource, took two months for reflection and preparations for the discussion.

Younger stated that water is scarcely drinkable on the planet. We don’t know how much water we have compared to other nations.

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In 2021, the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute released the results from a three-year study. StudySanta Fe River and springs revealed an alarming increase of nitrogen pollution and a decrease for its flow, compared to previous year.

The Alachua County Environmental Protection Department’s Stacie Greco said that organizations like the environmental club that meet around water issues are valuable because people can have discussions and find ways to change their behavior to help the environment.

Greco stated, “As we have more people, and use more water,” that every drop we use does not make it to recharge our springs.

Vaina stated that he hopes the book club will involve more Gainesville residents as well as University of Florida students in the environmental work of Our Santa Fe River.

We want the river’s existence to last a long time. So we want people to remember the river is in trouble and that it needs some help, Vaina said.

The Next Environmental Book Club Meeting will be held February 20th, from 2 to 3 p.m. in the First Magnitude Brewing Company. The discussion will be on A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold. The club meeting schedule will be published on Our Santa Fe Rivers facebook page.

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