Christopher Curry, staff writer for the Gainesville Sun, has an excellent article today, Jan. 11, 2015 about environmental groups joining together to fight threats against the springs: “Springs Protection Advocates Join Forces.” The result of this joining is the new Florida Springs Council, reported here in earlier posts, and of which OSFR is a participant: “Other member vgroups from this ara include the Ichetucknee Alliance and Our Santa Fe River, Inc.”
Together, they plan to advocate for ‘comprehensive’ springs protection legislation during the upcoming legislative session in Tallahassee, as well as potentially mount legal challenges against groundwater pumping permits, water supply plans and minimum flows and levels that they feel harm or do not do enough to protect the state’s springs and the aquifer.
‘That’s been very difficult for individual groups to do in the past, and that’s one reason we are setting up this group, so collective resources can be used when litigation is the only possible way to bring about restoration of a water body. We’re going to avoid litigation when we can,’ [Bob] Knight said.
The original article by Christopher Curry in the Sun can be seen at this link, or continue reading for a re-publishing here. OSFR is grateful to the Sun for allowing us to reprint its articles in their entirety.
Ranger Rick Hughes and diver Bill Foote take a break between dives at Blue Hole Spring Ichetucknee Springs State park near Fort White, Fl. on March 30, 2004. The spring releases 60 million gallons of water a day. The once popular cavern and cave dive site has been closed for more then a year so vegitation can recover from over use. Hughes and Foote had special permission to make the dive. Visitors can still come on the deck and view the spring from the surface.
By Christopher Curry
Published: Saturday, January 10, 2015 at 7:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 10, 2015 at 7:23 p.m.
Several springs protection advocacy groups have joined forces in the hopes they will accomplish more together than separately.
In December, representatives of nine groups, including four from North Central Florida, established the Florida Springs Council. Together, they plan to advocate for “comprehensive” springs protection legislation during the upcoming legislative session in Tallahassee, as well as potentially mount legal challenges against groundwater pumping permits, water supply plans and minimum flows and levels that they feel harm or do not do enough to protect the state’s springs and the aquifer.
They also plan to launch an education campaign to distribute technical data on the springs and aquifer.
“The idea is to bring all these groups together to speak with a unified voice on springs protection, to educate and advocate on springs issues” said Bob Knight, with the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, the Silver Springs Alliance and the newly formed coalition’s executive committee.
Other member groups from this area include the Ichetucknee Alliance and Our Santa Fe River Inc. From other parts of the state, the Save the Manatee Club, Wakulla Springs Alliance, Kings Bay Springs Alliance, Friends of Warm Mineral Springs and Withlacoochee Aquatic Restoration Inc. were also organizing members.
“The basic idea of this is to approach these issues more holistically,” said Bob Palmer, with the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, the Ichetucknee Alliance and the newly formed coalition.
Knight said he expects the council’s membership to continue to expand.
With committee meetings in Tallahassee underway in advance of the upcoming session, advocating for a springs bill will be an early priority for the group. In 2014, state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, introduced a bill that unanimously passed the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, chaired by state Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness. That bill then went through numerous amendments that removed or loosened some specific requirements and timelines for setting minimum flows and levels, and recovery plans for water bodies that were below historic flows, as well as the basin management action plans for cleaning up impaired water bodies and watersheds.
Some specific provisions dealing with local governments’ wastewater treatments plants, septic tanks, agricultural operations and the nitrogen release rate of fertilizer also were removed.
The bill eventually passed the Senate unanimously but did not move through the Florida House
Simmons and a staff member for Dean both said Friday that a new version of the springs bill will be introduced in the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee for the 2015 session.
“It will have local governments working with the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) and the water management districts on plans to clean up water resources in their jurisdiction,” Simmons said. “It will not be a one-size-fits-all bill.”
Simmons expected the bill to be modeled on the bill that passed the Senate unanimously last session.
Knight and Palmer both said they feel the version that cleared the Senate was too watered down to be effective, and they will advocate for something like the original filed bill.
While Knight said use of the funds from the recently passed Amendment 1 referendum is not, at this time, a focus of the burgeoning group, that issue will likely play into springs legislation.
Amendment 1 requires that at least 33 percent of the money generated by the state’s document stamp tax on real estate transactions go toward land conservation programs and projects to protect water resources.
Last year’s springs bill identified that doc stamp money as one source of funding the projects to clean up water bodies.
Simmons said he expects any springs bill coming out of this session to look to Amendment 1 for funding.
“We plan on using the doc stamp money under Amendment 1 to do these things, because that constitutional amendment is very broad,” he said. “It gives the Legislature great latitude to do what we need to do.”
Advocates for Amendment 1 have argued the criteria are not that broad and that money should not go toward things such as expanding sewer systems to remove septic tanks, on the premise they spew nitrates into spring sheds. Those types of sewer projects were one initiative to clean up springs included in last year’s springs bill.
A staff member for Dean said Friday that the senator will likely work to get an Amendment 1 spending plan in place before moving ahead with policy initiatives under a springs bill.
Away from springs legislation, potential legal challenges against groundwater pumping permits or DEP or water management district plans and actions may emerge as other areas of focus for the new Florida Springs Council.
“That’s been very difficult for individual groups to do in the past, and that’s one reason we are setting up this group, so collective resources can be used when litigation is the only possible way to bring about restoration of a water body. We’re going to avoid litigation when we can,” Knight said.
In recent years, grassroots groups and individuals have launched challenges against the Adena Springs Ranch — later known as Sleepy Creek Lands — groundwater pumping application in Marion County and the proposed minimum flows and levels for the Lower Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers.
Palmer said the new group plans to review recent challenges to see what worked and what did not, then decide where to focus its legal efforts.