Environmentalists Plan to ‘Rally in Tally’

Christopher Curry has written an informative article in today’s Gainesville Sun about the rally for clean water and Amendment 1 in Tallahassee on Wednesday. Among the several environmentalist groups he mentions is Our Santa Fe River, Inc.

Continue reading for the entire article reprinted here, or go to this link to see it as it appeared in the Gainesville Sun.

Environmentalists Plan to ‘Rally in Tally’
By Christopher Curry

Staff writer

Published: Saturday, February 14, 2015 at 6:35 p.m.Curry-Christopher
Last Modified: Saturday, February 14, 2015 at 6:35 p.m.

Environmentalists stretching from the Panhandle to the Keys will descend on the state capital Wednesday for a “Rally in Tally” urging lawmakers to protect the state’s water resources and natural lands.

The pre-legislative rally “Floridians for Clean Water & Amendment 1 Rally” will cover a wide range of looming water protection issues, organizers say. Common themes running through the two-hour event will be a push for comprehensive and meaningful springs and water resources protection legislation and a push to have the monies set aside by the Amendment 1 referendum go primarily toward the purchase and maintenance of conservation lands.

Last year, the rally drew an estimated crowd of 200.

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club Florida, Florida’s Water & Land Legacy , the organization behind the Amendment 1 referendum, and the St. Johns Riverkeeper are organizing bus trips to the event from 10 Florida cities, including Gainesville and Ocala.

Some area groups sending representatives include the Ichetucknee Alliance, Our Santa Fe River, the Suwannee St. Johns Group Sierra Club, the Silver Springs Alliance, Florida Defenders of the Environment and the Florida Springs Council, a newly formed coalition of springs protection groups.

“We have the state’s largest organizations and tiny organizations working together,” said Cris Costello, a senior regional organizer with the Sierra Club.

Karen Ahlers, who mounted a legal challenge against the Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly Adena Springs) farming operation’s large groundwater pumping request in Marion County, and Gary Appelson, the policy coordinator for the Gainesville-based Sea Turtle Conservancy, are among the scheduled speakers.

With the event approaching, the Florida Springs Council sent a letter Friday to several key lawmakers, including Senate President Andy Gardiner R-Orlando, and Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee member Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, seeking $300 million for springs protection in the upcoming session and water protection policies with more teeth.

The group said that basin management action plans (BMAPs) approved by the state have been ineffective in cleaning up polluted watersheds and water bodies. The council’s letter also said that adopted minimum flows and levels intended to protect rivers and streams from the impact of groundwater pumping have not worked. The letter noted that MFLs for Manatee Springs and Fanning Springs have been in place for seven years and the flow of the springs has continued to decline during that time.

As for the funding request, local resident Bob Palmer, the chair of the Florida Springs Council’s legislative committee, said the group would like to see the purchase of land and conservation easements to protect springs come from Amendment 1 monies, while money for infrastructure, such as sewer systems to remove septic tanks from springsheds, should come from other state funds and local contributions.

The ongoing discussion is over what projects Amendment 1 monies should go toward. Gainesville’s Stephen Robitaille, president of the Florida Defenders of the Environment, a group the late Marjorie Harris Carr formed in 1969 to fight the Cross Florida Barge Canal, said Amendment 1 spending and concerns over large groundwater pumping requests like Sleepy Creek Lands were priority issues for his group.

Robitaille said he felt money set aside by Amendment 1, which requires that at least 33 percent of the revenues from the state document stamp on real estate transactions go into land acquisition trust fund, should be used “in the spirit” of the voter-approved referendum to restore funding for conservation purchasing programs like Florida Forever.

Voicing a common stance among advocates of the referendum, Robitaille said “it was not the intent” of the amendment to put large sums of money toward sewer construction projects on the premise they help clean up springs by removing septic tanks and the nitrates they release into the water table.

One concern some environmentalists have voiced is that sewer systems could open more undeveloped areas for dense growth, leading to more water demands and pollution.

On Friday afternoon, Dean released a wide-ranging water resources bill that would, among other things, use Amendment 1 as a source of funding for future projects identified and approved to clean up water bodies or to restore their flow. The removal of polluting septic tanks to hook up properties to central sewer systems was included in the bill.

Like the original version of a bill filed last session in the Senate, the bills would also include new requirements for establishing MFLs and BMAPs — while giving 20 years to restore a water body after those plans are in place — put in place more stringent rules for fertilizer application and also require the establishment of springs protection zones.

In those zones, certain activities, including the construction of sewer plants with a capacity above 100,000 gallons per day and the installation of septic tanks on lots less than an acre, will be
prohibited unless they meet certain low nitrogen release requirements.

OSFR is grateful to the Sun for permission to print its articles in their entirety.

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