The goal is to reduce the amount of nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous, that make their way into the aquifer, springs and rivers, carried there by stormwater that washes pollutants from rooftops, streets and sidewalks. Deborah Strange, see below
Once again Alachua County is leading the way to tackle this problem head on instead of just talking about, funding a study on it, or doing nothing like everyone else. Yes, it is going to cost a little, yes, that is part of the solution. We will all pay for this sooner or later. Even agriculture, which is exempt for now. Because if we don’t, we are all dead.
New regulations are coming, mandated, and they are causing consternation and misunderstanding (https://oursantaferiver.org/does-urban-landscapes-mean-farms/) by some who resolve to not enforce them. Indeed Alachua Co. understands them and is acting accordingly.
Read the article below by Deborah Strange, in the original in the Gainesville Sun, Sunday, June 18, 2017.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Alachua County crafts rules to tame stormwater, cut pollution
By Deborah Strange
Posted Jun 17, 2017 at 4:23 PM Updated Jun 17, 2017 at 10:39 PM
New regulations mean new fees for homeowners, higher costs for construction
Owning a home and building new ones are likely to become more expensive as Alachua County works to adopt new standards to reduce water pollution.
Click Now and Read Later.
The county’s Environmental Protection Department has a two-pronged approach.
The first, which the Board of County Commissioners approved last week, affects buildings in unincorporated Alachua County. Property owners will see an assessment on their tax bills that will raise money to address existing contributors to pollution.
Another set of regulations, months away from completion, would define higher standards for new development throughout the area, possibly requiring builders to use more engineered soil beneath new construction.
The goal is to reduce the amount of nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous, that make their way into the aquifer, springs and rivers, carried there by stormwater that washes pollutants from rooftops, streets and sidewalks. In east Alachua County or in Gainesville, it may flow directly into streams or sinkholes. In western Alachua County, with its sandy soil, stormwater flushes through the ground, too quickly for bacteria and other natural processes to break down the pollutants naturally.
Polluted stormwater eventually makes its way to groundwater, and, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 90 percent of state residents depend on groundwater for drinking water. And if polluted stormwater makes its way to surface water — lakes, springs, ponds, rivers — an overabundance of nitrates and phosphates can spur algae blooms, not unlike those that plague Florida water bodies. Algae blooms can suffocate fish and harm humans.
“Stormwater does not discriminate,” said Eric Livingston, a state Department of Environmental Protection retiree who’s now an independent contractor.
Developers are pushing back against the regulations, arguing they would drive up housing costs but have only a small environmental benefit.
Florida was the first state to mandate treatment of stormwater, but the state’s regulations are out of date, Livingston said, and a legacy of pollution is plaguing county water.
At the DEP, from which he retired in 2013, Livingston was charged with developing new codes to take advantage of research showing more efficient “best practice models.” But that stopped in 2009 when the government began focusing on business-friendly practices.
Now, Alachua County is taking that initiative to protect and clean water into its own hands.
A new assessment
The environmental protection department has developed a stormwater assessment that applies to property in unincorporated Alachua County, or property that is not part of a city.
The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday approved the assessment, a fee that comes with property owners’ tax bills in November.
“The stormwater fee is long-past due,” said Mark Clark, an associate professor of wetland ecology at the University of Florida. The money would help maintain stormwater treatment plans, which are ineffective if there’s no way to maintain them.
“We need to maintain the infrastructure that we have,” Clark said.
The stormwater assessment applies to structures, like rooftops, parking lots and other surfaces impervious to water.
Chris Bird, director of the county’s Environmental Protection Department, said determining the fees based simply on property taxes would be unfair to those who own undeveloped land that doesn’t interfere with rainwater.
Agricultural structures are exempt, and the county doesn’t have jurisdiction to impose mandates regarding agricultural wastewater.
Bird said about 37,000 residents in unincorporated Alachua County received letters in May notifying them of the stormwater assessment. Of those, 33,900 are single-family residential units.
The county could go to every impervious property in unincorporated Alachua County and measure its dimensions, but Bird said that wouldn’t be cost-efficient. Instead, the county has developed a formula to provide flat-rate options to cover a property’s stormwater impact.
Property appraisal records already indicate the footprint of buildings on each piece of property. The average single family residential building footprint is 2,235 feet, the county calculated. Adding impervious accessories, like driveways, makes the average total impervious area 4,011 square feet.
The county calculates the average building footprint with average impervious area to decide how much each home’s owner should pay. Properties with a less-than-average building footprint pay half the fee, or $15.30. Properties with an average building footprint would pay $30. Properties with more than the average building footprint would pay $49.80, unless a property is greater than 6,000 square feet.
In those cases, the county measures that property’s impervious area using aerial data and charges $30 per 4,011 square feet of impervious surface.
The county expects to generate $1.3 million in revenue from the 2017-2018 assessment. Half of that will go toward drainage improvements to reduce flooding. Of the remaining half, 75 percent will go to cleaning polluted water, and 25 percent will go to promoting water quality awareness, Bird said.
“Some of these things are public benefits,” Bird said. “It’s not like cable TV.”
Manual for developers
The environmental protection department is also working on a code for new development within the county. Today, the ordinance focuses less on water quality and more on flooding issues.
Bird said the code is months away from being ready for county commissioners’ review, as his team is working on a third draft. The first two were published in 2016.
Rory Causseaux, CEO of the engineering firm CHW, said it’s typical for development codes to include presumption of compliance, which assumes if developers meet the construction standards then they’ll also meet the pollution standards, even though pollution output won’t be measured.
But research shows the county codes’ presumptions are wrong. While developers follow guidance to reduce pollution levels by certain percentages, those actions don’t actually reduce pollution levels by the necessary quota.
Bird agreed the current codes are based on research now more than 20 years old and haven’t met the goals they were designed to deliver.
The county’s stormwater assessment now needs to develop funds to pay for “legacy pollution,” Bird said, and new development codes need to follow research that could work toward protecting the environment.
“The pollution didn’t happen overnight,” he said.
The ground in Alachua County is different on the east from the west.
East of I-75, a clay layer between soil and the Floridan Aquifer naturally filters the water slowly enough for natural bacteria to treat pollution.
West of I-75, though, the ground is sandy all the way to the aquifer, so stormwater percolates the layers of dirt too quickly for much of anything to filter out pollutants once it hits the ground.
Part of the county is managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District, and part is managed by the Suwannee River Water Management District. Bird said those regulations also focus more on flood issues, but Causseaux said developers were wary of juggling different criteria between the county and water management districts.
Livingston said by 2000, state environmental protection workers knew best-practice managements were out of date. Research began raising questions about whether unfiltered pollutants take days, months or years to show up in surface water.
It’s also unclear how much nitrogen and phosphorous are already being removed by nature or by developments’ filtering practices. A code with a pollutant reduction goal of 70 percent is difficult to enforce, since no one knows what 100 percent of a development’s raw pollutants might be.
Causseaux said he wanted the county to have more certainty that its proposed solutions will have an impact on pollution before making mandates for developers.
“We need to know how effective we’re being now with our current best practices,” Causseaux said.
That changes the costs of development. Preventative techniques, like adding filtering material to the bottom of developments’ basins, costs money.
But so does cleaning up decades of pollution.
“There are certainly things we can do to improve the situation,” said Clark, the UF researcher. “I don’t think you can walk away from it. You’re not going to have a 100 percent solving of it, either.”
photo by Brad McClenny, Gainesville Sun