DEP Allows Nitrogen Monster to Grow
News Press has published the following article which shows the juggled statistics that our state agencies are now resorting to in order to reach a goal. Instead of following the science to see where it leads, as one water manager recently wrote, these agencies have an end and go through whatever convoluted hoops necessary to achieve that end.
We saw that happen in July of 2016 when the DEP wanted to convince the public that a few citizens were expendable so that industry would be promoted. We saw that in the St Johns River Water Management District when they made the water model fit the number needed to satisfy Frank Stronach, and we saw it very recently when the Southwest Florida Water Management District made the numbers of the MFLs fit the developer’s needs to build more developments.
Someone needs to make it clear that they are fooling no one.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
DEP allows nitrogen monster to grow
Unfortunately, at a recent Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) meeting to discuss its five-year plan to reduce nitrogen pollution in the Caloosahatchee Estuary, DEP demonstrated its failure to put the monster on a slim-fast diet. Instead, DEP allows the monster to secretly gorge on nutrients. These nutrients, especially nitrogen, fuel the growth of blue/green algal blooms.
Such blooms pose serious health risks and negatively impact our tourism sector. DEP uses a flawed system for counting the monster’s calories (in this case nitrogen) that enables the monster to cheat on its diet.
DEP repeatedly says that its plan, started in 2012, has attained 50% of the targeted nitrogen load reduction. What DEP does not say is that only 10% of the total reduction occurred since 2012. DEP gave those local governments responsible for nitrogen reduction eleven years of credits for projects dating back to 2001.
DEP compares apples to oranges when evaluating its progress. The plan calculates nitrogen loading from 2004. As such, progress is evaluated against a 2004 loading rate without accounting for the increased load resulting from cumulative and accelerated development. Rather than the 50% reduction DEP claims, the actual nitrogen load probably proves greater now than in 2012.
Even with DEP’s claimed fantastical reduction rate, it may never achieve its targeted goal within the designated 20 years. To come even close, local governments will need to greatly increase their funding or do a better job of managing growth.
An important component of the project entailed determining flow rates from the river and local tributaries so as to accurately calculate nitrogen loading from the various sources. DEP contracted with the U.S. Geological Survey to do these flow measurements. Just as the project kicked off in 2012, DEP eliminated the funding for the flow measurements.
Other Caloosahatchee Basin plans appear similarly fated.
The C-43 reservoir has a weak water quality component and it will prove unlikely to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus significantly. Moreover this component will be delayed.
While the C-43 plan worked its way through the US Congress (funding has not been forthcoming) and the state legislature, DEP verified that the Caloosahatchee Estuary was impaired for nutrient pollution.
Furthermore, a water management district project, aimed at reducing nitrogen further upstream in Hendry County, funded in 2007, included a $10 million contribution from Lee County taxpayers. This project has yet to come on-line.
When local entities charged with reducing nitrogen loads realize DEP is not serious about enforcement, they do not budget to make meaningful progress. Deteriorating water quality will only get worse unless DEP designs effective and timely aquatic restoration plans and enforces pollution control permits.
DEP needs to do a comprehensive water quality assessment for its pending annual progress report so as to gauge real progress. It’s time to stop feeding the monster.
John Cassani serves as waterkeeper for Calusa Waterkeeper. Gene Gibson is president of Calusa Waterkeeper.