Florida’s springs deserve more money and more attention, before it’s too late | Editorial

poe springs In: Florida’s springs deserve more money and more attention, before it’s too late | Editorial | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River

We commend the Orlando Sentinel for this commentary, and they are right on the button when they say agriculture must adjust its consumption of water and fertilizer. Their editors do not realize though, that the Best Management Practices are totally not the solution because, even if followed to the letter, they will not make agriculture sustainable as it is practiced today.

A slow but solid transition must be begun to alter our current system. Agriculture is essential to Florida because we need food and because if our producers go elsewhere agricultural lands will be developed, which is the opposite of what Florida needs.

This should be the challenge to our leaders and it is a big one. The length of time it can be postponed is finite, as are our resources.

See the original article here in the Orlando Sentinel.

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

Florida’s springs deserve more money and more attention, before it’s too late | Editorial

By Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board Orlando Sentinel | Jun 29, 2021 at 2:57 PM

To put it in Hollywood terms, saving Florida’s Everglades is the studio blockbuster everyone’s crowding the theaters to see.

Cleaning up Florida’s freshwater springs is the indie film that goes straight to video. Important, maybe, but largely unnoticed.

We’re glad the Everglades have become an environmental cause célèbre that even Republicans can get excited about.

The governor and Florida’s congressional delegation have been clamoring for money to restore at least part of the Everglades to its pristine glory sometime in the foreseeable future. And good for them. It’s important.

So are Florida’s springs, some of which, according to a recent analysis, will take literally hundreds of years at the current pace to reach the pollution-removal goals set by the state.

In the case of Silver Springs, the analysis by the Florida Springs Council said, it would take more than 2,000 years to get rid of the pollutants that are fouling the iconic water source near Ocala. Anyone who has spent time at the springs or on the Silver River can see the toll pollution has taken over time: Water that’s less clear, mats of weeds, algae and muck atop the once white-sand river bottom.

The overarching problem is that state lawmakers and policymakers don’t have the stomach to go after the primary source of springs pollution: Agriculture.

According to the springs report, agriculture accounts for 70% of the nutrient pollution — primarily nitrogen — in Florida’s major springs. But just 4% of the money that Florida’s water management districts are proposing to spend in 2021-22 to restore springs will reduce or stop agricultural pollution from fertilizer.

In contrast, nearly 95% of the $134 million to be spent is for wastewater treatment plant upgrades and reducing pollution from septic tanks, even though treatment plants and septic tanks account for just 17% of the pollution that’s fouling our springs.

Consider this example: Agricultural pollution accounts for nearly 97% of the nutrients that seeps into the basin that feeds Jackson Blue Springs east of Tallahassee. But the state is spending more than $4 million — nearly every nickel it has for that area — so that 170 homes now on septic tanks in the town of Malone can connect to a sewer system.

Great. But septic tanks account for less than 3% of the nutrient pollution getting into the groundwater in that area. The amount being spent there to reduce agricultural pollution? $0. That kind of math does not equal cleaner water.

Some district projects don’t have anything to do with the water quality of springs.

The St. Johns River Water Management District proposed spending $1.7 million to restore the flow of the Little Wekiva River. We support that project, but it won’t do anything to benefit the water quality of water bubbling up from Wekiwa Springs. (That money ought to be coming out of the Department of Transportation’s hide anyway, since the DOT’s Interstate 4 project is the likely source of the Little Wekiva’s problems.)

Another St. Johns District project will spend $339,000 on stormwater drainage improvements intended to stop the flooding of several homes in a Marion County subdivision. But it’ll do nothing to improve the water quality of Silver Springs nearly eight miles away.

We’d like to say it’s baffling that the state isn’t doing more to address the main source of springs pollution, but there’s nothing baffling about it.

Agriculture is the third rail of Florida politics. Neither party, particularly Republicans, has any interest in crossing such a powerful political and economic force.

Many farming operations in Florida have adopted what are known as “best management practices,” essentially standards and guidelines for using water and fertilizers to reduce the amount of pollution that gets into waterways and groundwater.

But adopting those practices is voluntary in some places. In others it’s mandatory but there’s little enforcement.

It’s time for the Legislature to turn up the temperature.

Maybe that means more powerful incentives — either regulatory or economic — so that the agriculture industry adopts farming practices that aren’t going to continue spoiling Florida’s springs. Maybe it means updating those best practices. Maybe it means encouraging more crops that require less fertilizer. Maybe it means incentives to buy or relocate farms that are most directly degrading the quality of water getting into the groundwater near springs.

It certainly should mean more urgency is saving Florida’s springs. That means freeing up more money and spending it on projects that really make a difference. It also means legislators mustering up some courage to face the agriculture industry.

Just as the Everglades are unique, so are this state’s cool, clear springs, a series of oases dotting Central and North Florida.

We can’t let our springs go to ruin.

Editorials are the opinion of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board and are written by one of its members or a designee. The editorial board consists of Opinion Editor Mike Lafferty, Jennifer A. Marcial Ocasio, Jay Reddick and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Send emails to insight@orlandosentinel.com.

1 Comment

  1. The political “tail” that wags the legislative “dog” is the economic coalition of local Chambers of Commerce–it is NOT “boots in the field” farming interests. The ever-rising cost of fertilizer has
    its own ways of enforcing best management practices–this I know from personal experience.
    Also, to blame “agriculture” for the algae over-growth in Lake Okeechobee is nothing short of environmental ignorance or intentional blame shifting, Nietzsche-wise. As a multi-tasked GFC employee, I worked the Kissimmee watershed and Lake Okeechobee prior to Disney and the explosive I-4 corridor industrial and urban growth and, thusly, I know first-hand the effects of
    NON-agricultural pollution. And just last month I had the dubious opportunity of seeing just how grossly populated the area had become since the early and mid 1970s. And the orange groves have vanished and other agricultural pursuits have dwindled away, but Okeechobee
    yet became overgrown with algae. Then who is to blame?–it damn shore ain’t the farmer!

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