Think about how many places in the world can call themselves the Nature Coast. Not many. In fact, only eight counties along the Big Bend coast of Florida are informally known as the Nature Coast.

That gives us in Citrus County a special honor, along with a special responsibility, to protect what gives us that name.

We can all agree that we are blessed to live, work and play in this beautiful county. With our seven Outstanding Florida Waters, three first-magnitude freshwater springs, seven rivers, six lakes and countless small streams and ponds, we are a water lover’s heaven.

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But to stay true to the Nature Coast, it takes much work from all of us to preserve the pristine God-given beauty and life-sustaining waters we are blessed with.

Luckily, we are also blessed to have individuals and organizations that make it their mission to protect what we have.

On a state level, thanks to the leadership and hard work of Rep. Ralph Massullo and Sen. Wilton Simpson, Citrus County has benefited from millions of dollars appropriated toward the cleanup of our waterways, restoration of our lakes and rivers, and septic-to-sewer programs.

Our state officials tell us that much of this appropriation success is because of the community buy in, advocacy, and support that we bring up to Tallahassee. This is a major reason why the Chamber organizes Citrus County Legislative Day every year and brings 100 of our business and community leaders who converge on the capital to support our initiatives.

Still, it is on the local level where the real work happens. Between appropriations from the state, private grants, and the donations of hundreds of concerned individuals, Save Crystal River, a volunteer group of dedicated individuals determined to clean up King’s Bay, has been working tirelessly to restore it to the beautiful natural waterway that provides a home to hundreds of marine species.

Over five short years, Save Crystal River has removed over 163 million pounds of muck and debris from restored areas of King’s Bay and replaced it with over 130,000 native eelgrass plants that have continued to flourish and grow, even into areas that have yet to be touched by the restoration project.

In the process of cleaning out these areas, Save Crystal River’s King’s Bay Restoration Project has also uncovered over 500 previously clogged spring vents. It is inspiring to see our bay begin to transform from the algae ridden, murky canals they had become into the crystal clear waterways they once were, and seeing the impact not only on the ecosystem but on the economy, as well.

With cleaner waterways, we are now seeing resident manatees that call King’s Bay home year-round, extending the draw on tourism from only a few short months. We are also seeing fish and other aquatic life now flourishing where they once were minimal, impacting the fishing industry, as well as the fishing sector of our tourism industry. This project is truly a public/private partnership including local and state support as well as hard work and dedication from our local community.

Emulating the effective model of Save Crystal River’s King’s Bay Restoration Project, the Homosassa River Restoration Project is set to begin work on that river after successfully receiving a $1.5 million appropriation from the State this year. Consulting with Save Crystal River, there is little doubt we will soon see a transformation of the Homosassa River, as well.

Other groups, such as TOO FAR, Citrus 2030, Keep Citrus County Beautiful and the individuals that keep Save Our Waters Week alive, work tirelessly to protect and preserve our water resources.

Although the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce is primarily a business support organization, water quality and quantity are always a top priority of your Chamber and we work closely with our leaders to keep this all-important issue on the front burner. Without water, we cannot sustain life. Without clean water, we cannot maintain health. Without maintaining our local natural resources, our economy and wildlife will suffer.

I am always amazed at the human capital our citizens put forth in preserving the wonderful natural assets we are so fortunate to have in our backyard. Our unity in purpose on water issues is paying huge dividends.

Let’s keep up the good work.

Josh Wooten is a former Citrus County Commissioner and the President CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce.

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