Dr. Bob Palmer has submitted the following editorial to the Tallahassee Democrat for publication and it will likely appear during the coming week. Comments from several legislators indicate a lack of willingness to improve the pending legislation, but hope remains. The Florida Springs Council represents 35 environmental groups, including Our Santa Fe River.
Our thanks to Dr. Palmer for permission to print his editorial.
For the Sake of Our Springs, The Legislature Should Adopt These Amendments
Comprehensive water-policy legislation will be considered, and in all likelihood passed, by the Florida legislature later this week. Leaders in the House and Senate have made it clear that they will not support any changes to the bills’ current provisions.
That is too bad, and represents a missed opportunity for Florida’s iconic springs. Significant water legislation is unlikely to re-surface for a decade or more, when means that when the next water bill is considered – sometime in the 2020s or 2030s – that group of legislators will be wondering, “Well, our springs are just as degraded as they were in 2016. Why didn’t our legislative fixes back then work?”
Florida has more artesian springs –over 1,000 – and more first magnitude springs – flows over 100 cubic feet per second – than anyplace in the world. Many of these springs are within a short drive of the Florida Capitol, including Wakulla Spring, Spring Creek, St. Marks Rise, and Wacissa Spring. Florida’s springs are central to the State’s history, culture, tourism, and general sense-of-place.
Unfortunately the steady degradation of these springs continues, as documented by Dr. Bob Knight in his 2015 book “Silenced Springs” and by John Moran, in his sobering before-and-after photographs of scores of Florida’s most beautiful natural treasures. Flows have declined precipitously in most major springs, and crystal-clear water and native aquatic plants have been replaced in large measure by greenish water and unsightly filamentous algae. The causes of this degradation are well known – we pump too much groundwater and we use too much fertilizer.
Key legislators who drafted the water bills are well aware of what’s needed to restore our springs. But there simply isn’t the political will in Tallahassee to take the steps necessary to arrest and eventually reverse the rampant over-pumping and over-fertilizing that is killing our springs.
The principal problem with the pending bills is that they rely on acceleration of existing tools – Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) and Minimum Flows and Levels (MFL) – which have repeatedly proven to be ineffective in restoring springs. I have made the following statement many times: “Not a single degraded first magnitude spring is on track to be restored to health with a BMAP or an MFL.” I keep hoping that a State official will prove me wrong and show me a spring that is in fact on a predictable path to restoration using the current set of tools. So far, unfortunately, no one has shown that my pessimism is unwarranted.
We need new approaches. Several months ago, the Florida Springs Council (FSC) recommended 17 amendments to the water bill which embody a number of these new approaches. FSC is a consortium of 35 grass-roots citizens groups comprising over 100,000 Floridians who share a deep concern with the health and restoration of Florida’s springs. We discussed these concepts with legislators and their staffs in Tallahassee but none were incorporated in the current bills. We have since winnowed these 17 amendments down to four. With adoption of our top-four priority amendments, FSC would endorse the water-policy bill.
These top four amendments would provide the following:
·Water-metering provisions should be strengthened to include all users of 100,000 gallons per day or more, with more frequent reporting, and with metering paid by the user.
·Water Management Districts (WMD) should estimate a maximum sustainable groundwater withdrawal for each district.
·Authorization of an independent study of water fees.
·Naming a “Restoration Focus Spring” to be restored within 15 years.
None of these amendments involve substantial outlays by Florida’s taxpayers, but taken together, they would constitute a very effective first-step toward springs restoration. For a more detailed description of these amendments, see the “Legislation” tab on FSC’s website (http://springsforever.org).
It is not too late for legislative leaders to step back, acknowledge that the current water legislation will not cure Florida’s beleaguered springs in the foreseeable future, and include in the water-policy bill new approaches that offer some hope of restoring Florida’s natural gems. We hope that these amendments will be offered, debated, and voted on when the bills are considered on the House and Senate Floors later this week. If they are, we would strongly urge all House and Senate members to support them.
Bob Palmer Chairs the Legislative Committee of the Florida Springs Council