Editorial: Springs plan not working

not working 6 In: Editorial: Springs plan not working | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

The Ocala Star Banner has printed an excellent editorial about the Basin Management Action Plans which is of the kind that makes our blood boil.  As it should any Florida taxpayer and citizen who has any interest in our springs, rivers and drinking water.

Simply put, the  state employees who accept their salaries for ostensibly managing, protecting and preserving  our water resources are failing in their jobs.

Not only are they failing, they are aware of their failure.  But still they continue to improvise plans, formulae and programs which give them the appearance of working on the problem, but which they know will not solve it.

This satisfies the mindset that says if you are spending millions of dollars,  and if you are sitting in meetings and if you are writing programs, then you must be doing your job.

Not true.

As we see below, the nitrates are caused by fertilizer and septics.

Now we officially know something else after IFAS (UF) and the St Johns River Water Management District  (SJRWMD) spent well over three million dollars; this being that reduced water flow in springs and rivers also contributes to nitrate pollution.  Dr. Robert Knight and other environmentalists knew this  long before our state agencies spent over three years and three million dollars finding out.

SJRWMD claims the reduced flow is due to lack of rainfall instead of over-pumping, ignoring historical rainfall records which don’t back them up.

We suppose that if they admit to over-pumping, they might have to curtail issuing new withdrawal permits.  Which in turn might slow development, industry and other water users.

One thing our editorial writer could have mentioned, is that in this game of BMAPS, our managers are not really playing for keeps, and maybe that is the problem. The only thing they are keeping is their jobs.

Because if the deadlines for making BMAPS and putting them into practice are not met, and if the goals are not met, nothing happens.  They don’t stop the over-pumping and over-fertilizing.   Nobody pays fines, nobody gets fired.  They just set new deadlines and goals and continue onward, drawing their paychecks.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-


Editorial: Springs plan not working

Posted Jun 3, 2018 at 2:01 AM

It has been three years since state environmental officials unveiled plans for stemming the nitrate pollution in the Silver and Rainbow springs. At the time, even the authors of the Basin Management Plans (BMAPs) conceded they were ambitious but said we had to start somewhere.

Well, three years into the BMAP strategies, the community received an update recently — and it was not good news.

First the environmental report. Drew Bartlett, deputy secretary ecosystem restoration, told us that nitrate levels in Silver Springs have not gone down — any. Despite spending tens of millions on water system and wastewater treatment improvements as well as some septic tank removals, there has been virtually no reduction in nitrate levels.

That is worrisome, because DEP set goals — again, admittedly ambitious goals — of reducing nitrate levels in Silver Springs by 38 percent and in Rainbow Springs by 82 percent within five years. Three years in, no improvement.

So we asked Bartlett: What’s the problem? Septic tanks.

While the state and local governments have done significant upgrading of wastewater treatment plants, there are so many septic tanks in Marion County no one really knows how many there are. Estimates range from 60,000 to 100,000, and they have been identified as the No. 2 cause of nitrate pollution, behind agriculture.

So what can be done. Well, within the springs’ Priority Focus Areas — about a 10- to 15-mile radius of the two springs — DEP plans to require new homes have either public sewer or new, nitrogen-reducing septic systems, which typically cost two to three times as much as a traditional septic tank. Eventually, existing homes will be brought up to code, so to speak.

Of course, builders — and, soon enough, homeowners — are howling. But the mandate is part of the 2016 Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act that passed by the Legislature that sets a July 1, 2018, deadline to begin phasing out older-model septic systems. It’s state law; it’s not flexible.

As some builders complained at a public forum on the issue in Ocala last month, the new nitrogen-reducing systems will drive up the cost of a new home by $12,000 to $18,000. One local builder said she has 100 homes in the planning stages, “and this is $1.8 million problem” for her company.

Bartlett told us DEP is cognizant of the financial toll the changeover will cause, but the law does not give DEP and wiggle room. So, he said, the agency is looking into ways to possibly help offset the cost for homeowners, although nothing is finalized. The state should begin working on that now.

It is disappointing that the BMAP has been so unsuccessful to this point. Yes, it is only three years, but no progress is unacceptable.

Removing or improving septic systems is one way to reduce nitrates, but even DEP acknowledges it will not be enough to restore our springs, let alone reach its own goals.

The Marion County Commission and the Ocala City Council should become part of the solution and ban nitrogen-based fertilizers immediately as well.

The water flowing out of our springs is the water that flows out of our faucets. Failing to clean it up is not an option, for our health as well as our wealth. DEP knew when it unveiled the BMAPs that they were too timid. Now it is time to take real steps — and, yes, our years of sidestepping this issue is going to cost us.

1 Comment

  1. An enterprising BMAP introduced in 2012 – and a report four years later that shows zero progress on the nitrate problem. The solution? Create a NEW BMAP and start the 20 year program over again. And, in five years, when they show no progress? The enterprising BMAP of 2023, with a 20 year program? A couple more turns of this cycle and there will be nothing left to protect. We need to foster the political will to limit growth to sustainable growth.

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