DeLeon Springs is a wide spring that flows through a wide run into Spring Garden Lake, into Lake Woodruff, and finally into Lake Dexter before it flows into the St. Johns River. More than a century ago, a dam and a wall were constructed around the headspring to create a large pool for swimming (the spring was developed as a fountain of youth spa, http://www.floridasprings.org/visit/map/deleonsprings/). Although I don’t know that it has made anyone immortal, the spring is still a popular spot for swimming and for eating pancakes.
The pool at the headspring of DeLeon Springs.
Water rushing over rocks piled against the dam in a natural-looking spillway.
The wide run of DeLeon Springs. The shorter trees in the center of the photo indicate where the run curves around to join Spring Garden Lake.
Although the pool and run of DeLeon Springs are large, the discharge of the spring actually is fairly low (27 cfs, http://www.sjrwmd.com/springs/poncedeleon.html). The conductivity of the spring is moderate (770 micromhos/cm), about 1/3 of the conductivity of Volusia Blue Spring and about 1/7 of the conductivity of Salt Spring, but still higher than any of the springs on the Suwannee or the Santa Fe Rivers. Nutrient concentrations are moderate (nitrate = 0.8 mg/L, phosphate = 0.05 mg/L). Not surprisingly given the abundant algae, the oxygen concentrations that I measured in the run were high (7.5 mg/L), although the oxygen concentration above the dam is quite low (less than 1 mg/L).
Green water in DeLeon Springs run. The camera sometimes autoadjusts the colors in deceiving ways, but the water really was this green.
DeLeon Springs was the very first spring that I visited in January 2017. Because it is so close to me, I decided to try out my gear there. It was an utter failure. I tried to trap fish with a trash can and only managed to catch a few mosquitofish as I stumbled around in the cypress knees and muck. There was so much suspended material in the water and sediment on the bottom that fluffed up at the slightest disturbance that poor water clarity precluded seeing much of anything. Also, I was naive to video so my camera placement was less than perfect.
My original rig, with kayak towing bottomless trash can in a rubber raft. A woman saw me and told her child that I was a very nice person for picking up trash. I got a lot lighter and more maneuverable when I dumped the raft and trash can.
I returned to DeLeon Springs in May for my last survey. The water clarity still was poor, but I got much better at camera placement and I was able to get useable, although not great, data. I am quite sure that both my counts and species richness numbers were low below the dam.
This ramp was the only place where I could place the camera in the headspring as the dam makes it quite deep. The mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) are a little hard to see in this still photo, but there are a lot of them (much easier to see on the video).
Two bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) and a spotted sunfish (Lepomis punctatus) in the run below the dam. The water clarity made fish counting a challenge, but most were recognizable.
In the end, the species richness, or the total number of species, and the total count of fish on video for DeLeon Springs were not as low as I expected it to be given how murky the water was. Both the species richness and the total count were equal to the average for the St. Johns River springs (16 species and 26 individuals per video segment). The diversity was lower than the average for the St. Johns River, but it was only a little lower than the values for Juniper or Gemini Springs and, actually, it was higher than the average for the Suwannee River springs.
On my first visit to DeLeon Springs in January, I heard a loud engine and, as it turned around the bend from Spring Garden Lake, I was surprised to see a float plane. I heard a similar sound on my second trip, but instead of a plane, it was an airboat tour. To my untrained ear, they sound about the same at a distance.
An airboat in the run of DeLeon Springs.