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It’s such a struggle to get Florida’s water managers to do their job. Laws are made that sound good, but it seems that immediately those who are supposed to enact them begin to look for ways to thwart, circumvent or evade them.
Such is the case with the recently enacted Basin Management Action Plans, which were criticized by environmental groups as being hurriedly and shoddily put together as well as inadequate in achieving their goals.
For example the BMAP for the lower Santa Fe River was enacted in 2012, but now, six years later, the pollution remains the same, showing no improvement. Many people believe the new plans will do no better than the earlier failed ones.
Read the original article here in the Daytona News Journal.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Groups protest new Florida springs action plans
A sweeping effort to adopt action plans to improve water quality in 13 springs systems across the state is on hold after a dozen groups and individuals asked to intervene with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, including one of the department’s own springs experts.
Thomas Greenhalgh, a hydrogeologist with the department’s Florida Geological Survey, is one of two people who asked for an administrative hearing on one of the 13 “basin management action plans” signed by Noah Valenstein in late June.
“There are many claims and statements in the BMAP that I believe are inaccurate and unsubstantiated,” wrote Greenhalgh in seeking a state hearing on the plan for the Suwannee River, where he owns property.
He’s not alone.
Paul Still, who lives on 115 acres on Lake Sampson near Starke, filed a request for a state hearing on the Santa Fe River plan, citing “major flaws.” The plans provide no assurance that nitrate levels will be reduced in rivers and springs, said Still, a retired University of Florida biologist.
The department was under a mandate set by the legislature in 2016 to prepare and adopt individual plans for cleaning up nitrogen and other pollution in 13 spring systems across Central Florida and North Florida by July 1.
In addition to the hearing requests from Greenhalgh and Still, 11 other groups and individuals met a July 20 deadline to ask for extensions of time to consider filing their own administrative challenges, including the Florida Home Builders Association and Nature Coast Home Builders Association.
The rush to get the plans approved and adopted was a sore spot with almost all the groups.
“They weren’t adopted or finalized until two or three days prior to the effective date (July 1),” said Rusty Payton, the chief executive officer for the Florida Home Builders Association. “We really had no capability to educate our members.”
When a new building code is final in Florida, Payton said, “there’s always six months between the final rule and the date the rule takes effect.”
Who filed protests over DEP’s springs action plans?
Here’s a list of the groups and individuals filing requests and which springs system they named:
Request for administrative hearing:
‒ Paul Still, Santa Fe River
‒ Thomas Greenhalgh, Suwannee River
Request for time extension:
‒ Florida Home Builders Association, all 13 action plans
‒ Friends of Wekiva River, Wekiwa Spring
‒ Ginnie Springs Outdoors, Santa Fe River
‒ Ichetucknee Alliance, Santa Fe River
‒ James Tatum, Santa Fe River
‒ Nature Coast Builders, Crystal River/Kings Bay, Homosassa and Chasshowitzka Springs, Weeki Wachee
‒ Our Santa Fe River, Santa Fe River
‒ Rainbow River Conservation, Silver Springs, Silver River, Rainbow Springs and Rainbow River
‒ Save the Manatee Club, Volusia Blue Spring
‒ Silver Spring Alliance, Silver Springs, Silver River, Rainbow Springs and Rainbow River
‒ Suwannee St. Johns Sierra, Suwannee River and the Santa Fe River
Anne Harvey Holbrook, who represented Save the Manatee Club in seeking an extension for the plan for Blue Spring in Orange City in Volusia County, agreed. “It was a really quick turnaround,” she said.
Because the statewide builders association asked for more time to review all 13 plans, none of the plans went into effect as scheduled on July 1. They’re all on hold until the department can review the requests for hearing and time extensions and set a course forward.
Eight of the groups filing letters were environmental organizations who raise concerns similar to those of Greenhalgh and Still. The Silver Spring Alliance was one of two groups that named the plan that includes Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs.
Five requests were filed over the Santa Fe River plan and two named the Suwannee River plan. Both river systems are known for their many scenic and popular springs.
The process could have been more transparent and deliberative, said John Thomas, a St. Petersburg attorney who sent eight of the letters. His clients include James Tatum, Friends of the Wekiva, Ichetucknee Alliance, Ginnie Springs Outdoors and Sierra Club North Florida Group.
The environmental groups divvied up which groups would file the requests and for which springs, said Gainesville resident Bob Palmer, chairman of the Florida Springs Council’s legislative committee.
“We have 13 of these (action plans) and we’ve asked the same question on every one: Will the plan, if it’s actually implemented, clean up the spring in 20 years,” said Palmer. “It’s very hard to argue that any of these plans would do that.”
Springs advocates “would like to see plans that are believable enough that we feel confident enough that they would get the job done,” Palmer said.
Department officials declined to comment on the petitions and requests for this story. In June, the department’s Drew Bartlett defended the action plans. Because they’re formally updated every five years, he said there would be ample opportunities to make changes as the department learns more about the springs and the sources of pollution found in the springs.
The department is reviewing the 14 requests, said spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller. A decision to grant or deny will be made on each individual request for more time. If either or both petitions for administrative hearing are “deemed sufficient,” the petition will be forwarded to the Division of Administrative Hearings to be set for hearing.
Comments similar to the concerns raised by Greenhalgh and Still were voiced by numerous groups before the plans were approved, including Volusia County, Stetson University’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience and Springs Council members.
Greenhalgh, who has family members who own a spring along the Suwannee, disagrees with the state’s projections about how much pollution will be removed from spring water by the projects listed in the plan. That plan isn’t significantly different from an attempted partnership beginning in 1999, he wrote. That initiative “failed to address the nutrient loading” or its associated human health and environmental problems.
“I believe it is wrong and deceptive,” he wrote, “to provide a ‘presumption of compliance’ with water quality standards utilizing an unsubstantiated statement of fact.”
One of the big attractions for Still and his family when he took the job in Gainesville in the 1970s was the abundant springs in the area. He said the state’s numbers for reducing nitrogen in the springs along the Santa Fe “are just not real.”
“There’s nothing in it,” he said, “that has any chance of meeting the (targets).”
Clay Henderson, executive director of the Stetson water institute, hopes the additional time will give the interested parties “more opportunities to try to tweak things a little bit.”
“We’ve recommended a number of things to make these better,” said Henderson.
Payton, of the Florida Home Builders Association, said state agencies and the marketplace need more time on the advanced nitrogen-reducing septic systems that will be required for priority focus areas within spring basins. Other technologies are available, but several groups that asked for delays said state officials haven’t yet finalized the rules that would allow those technologies to be used.
“We’re trying to find something that will get us to where we want to be on springs protection, but with an end product that’s affordable for the user,” Payton said. “I think that’s the goal for everybody.”
Greenhalgh and Thomas said the best management practices for agriculture incorporated into the plans aren’t effective at removing nitrogen. Greenhalgh wants the department to admit it and formulate a plan that will address the nitrogen pollution in the springs.
Thomas contends DEP employees “want to do the right thing, but the Legislature only gives them so much money and authority and the executive only gives them so much leash.”
Department officials “are pretending they can get this done in 20 years with no new authority,” he said. “But it’s not going to happen. When they look at it rationally, I’m sure they’re terribly daunted.”