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FWC approves new protections for Weeki Wachee River

Within the Springs Protection Zone, beaching, mooring, anchoring and grounding vessels are no longer allowed in order to protect the natural environment.

HERNANDO COUNTY, Fla. — For those who love being out on the pristine waters at Weeki Wachee River, there are now new rules in place that change how visitors enjoy the experience. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday approved a new rule creating a Springs Protection Zone along a 5.61-mile stretch of the river from the springhead in Weeki Wachee State Park to the Rogers Park Boat Ramp. 

Within the Springs Protection Zone, beaching, mooring, anchoring and grounding vessels are no longer allowed. This is to protect vegetation, wildlife and prevent shoreline erosion. 

"In the state of Florida, doing anything, especially these types of things to protect the springs, is a positive step in the right direction,” Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson of the Our Santa Fe River environmental group said. 

The new rules will not prohibit people from exiting their vessels or swimming in the water. 

Weeki Wachee River advocate Shannon Turbeville told 10 Investigates last year it’s this type of activity that needs to be better monitored.

"Out-of-vessel recreation is what's destroying the river. They're climbing up on the shorelines. When they're in the water, they're kicking up the sedimentation. This sedimentation is not normal,” Turbeville said. 

He would like to see stronger enforcement from FWC. 

"The FWC told [former] Sen. Simpson, who disseminated it to the public six years ago, that the FWC was committed to increasing patrols on the river and enforcing existing rules. But we see that's not necessarily happening,” Turbeville said.

A spokesperson from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection told 10 Investigates in May this statement: T

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement bases its patrol efforts on resource protection, environmental protection, enforcing boating rules regulations and public safety. FWC officers have statewide jurisdiction along with local law enforcement to patrol rural, wilderness, inshore and offshore areas. The Weeki Wachee River is included in their jurisdiction and will be patrolled accordingly to enforce the laws protecting Florida’s resources.

"Everyone, including myself, is loving this river to death,” Turbeville said. “We all want the same thing and that’s to come out here to enjoy it. Enjoy what God's given us and in this public land that's ours to enjoy. But we're going to have to change the way that we do enjoy it."

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