River Advocates, Dairy Farmers and the DEP – can we talk?

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The following document is OSFR President Mike Roth’s comments on a meeting which took place in High Springs on May 31, 2019.

This meeting reveals very clearly the sad situation in which Florida finds itself regarding the environment.  The agencies with which Tallahassee provides its citizens are  lacking in leadership in fulfilling their missions.

The health and welfare of our citizens take a backseat to that of Florida’s industry.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.


-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-

River Advocates, Dairy Farmers and the DEP – can we talk?

mike roth idep In: River Advocates, Dairy Farmers and the DEP – can we talk? | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Mike Roth

Several months ago, I questioned the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about a consent order they were poised to approve granting certain Consumptive Use Permit and nitrogen loading allowances to Alliance Dairy in Gilchrist County in response to American Dairy exceeding its permits consistently for a long period of time. It appeared to me a strange resolution – “you exceeded in the past, so ask for more.” Ultimately, I received a call from Jim Maher, the Assistant Director of the Northeast District at DEP, who explained to me that American, the perpetrator, sold out to Alliance, who agreed to take mitigating steps, and that’s why they were not heavily penalized. I shared that with Dr. Bob Knight at the Florida Springs Institute (FSI,) who said he wanted to have a conference with Mr. Maher.

bobknight1 In: River Advocates, Dairy Farmers and the DEP – can we talk? | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Bob Knight

That led to a surrealistic meeting on May 31 that brought seven DEP executives to the table along with the co-owners of Alliance Dairy, their consultant, Dr. Knight along with one of his staff scientists and me. Dr. Knight started with a data summary handout that focused on Troop Spring, a Santa Fe River spring due north of the Alliance Branford dairy, which tested at an astounding 49.5 mg/l of nitrate levels (the DEP criterion for spring runs is 0.35 mg/l). By means of comparison, other springs tested at levels starting at .2mg/l near the Santa Fe Swamp and increasing to as much as 2.0 mg/l farther downriver. Dr. Knight suggested that the dairy be closed to prevent further damage to Troop Spring, the Santa Fe River and ultimately, the Floridan Aquifer. At the very least, he suggested a reduction to the 2,300 head herd maintained at the dairy.

DEPgreg strong In: River Advocates, Dairy Farmers and the DEP – can we talk? | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Greg Strong

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Consultant Del Bottcher spoke next, pointing to cases where abandoned dairies further south were not effective in reducing nitrates, and working to get the dairy in nutrient balance could almost eliminate nitrate infusion using advanced technologies such as capture/reuse and denitrification processes. Dairy owner Jan Henderson pointed out that they had invested over $200,000 on such technologies that went into effect May 1, and Mr. Maher reported that there was a noted decrease in the nitrogen levels at first report, though all agreed it was too early to evaluate. Dr. Knight pointed out that the advanced technologies had only been applied to about 20% of the dairy operation so far, and even though it may well be mitigating, it will not be enough to squelch what he characterized as a “public health emergency”.

Dairy co-owner Ron St. John said that thinning the herd was off the table as not economically feasible and suggested that someone buy him out. He didn’t respond when I suggested that we shouldn’t have to buy him out to keep him from poisoning my well.

DEPmaher In: River Advocates, Dairy Farmers and the DEP – can we talk? | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Jim Maher

Mr. Bottcher also suggested that row cropping was far more problematic than dairy farming, to which Dr. Knight pointed to an assertion by Dr. Wendy Graham of the UF Water Institute that row cropping requires 40 acres per acre of mitigation land whereas dairies require 100 acres per acre. As to the health hazard, Mr. Bottcher suggested that residents near the diary should know to have their wells tested regularly, to which I objected that it shouldn’t be the residents’ responsibility. Tom Kallemeyn, DEP Permitting Program Administrator, suggested that DEP could coordinate with the Department of Health to do more well monitoring.

I inquired as to better oversight of row croppers and was surprised at Jim Maher’s comment that DEP has no tools in that chest – they do not have authority to regulate row croppers beyond recommending Best Management Practices.

Greg Strong, Northeast District Director, pointed out that there are no easy answers. What I found was that DEP seems to be satisfied with any level of progress, but don’t share the urgency that Dr. Knight feels about the “public health emergency”. There seemed to be overall agreement about the problems, and some agreement as to the solutions, but a stark contrast in the sense of urgency to get back to healthy levels. And that schism was not bridged at the meeting.

Still, it was encouraging to see open discussions among representatives of agriculture, environmentalists and regulators. We need a lot more of that.


Greg Strong – District Director NE District
James Maher – Assistant Director NE District
Heather Webber – Environmental Administrator, NE District
Herndon Sims – Subject Matter Expert, NE District
Tom Kallemeyn – Permitting Program Administrator
Greg DeAngelo – Deputy Director, Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration
Matthew Kershner – Environmental Manager

Del Bottcher – Soil And Water Engineering Technology
Bob Knight – Florida Springs Institute
Hillary Skowronski – Florida Springs Institute
Ron St. John – Alliance Dairies
Jan Henderson – Alliance Dairies
Mike Roth – Our Santa Fe River



  1. Our water quality is in crisis. Meetings like these are very encouraging. Let’s work towards 100% (not 20%) compliance by eliminating nitrate infusion using advanced technologies such as capture/reuse and denitrification processes.

    Kudos to Michael Roth for getting the ball rolling and the rest for coming to the table to talk about the problems and solutions to solve our water quality and quantity crisis issues.

    If buying out major polluters (such as the dairy) is what is needed, then let us do so through public and privately raised funding. There can never be enough state parks or natural preservation areas to help preserve our natural resources.

  2. The Department of Environmental Degradation and the Water Mismanagement Districts show a lack of will to enforce water quality standards for ground and surface waters that we have on the books. The Santa Fe is an outstanding waterway. It sounds like this Dairy and other agricultural operations are in the wrong geographical location because the groundwater and surface-water is basically one water body. The day we properly protect our Springs and aquifer from devastating nitrates and excessive consumptive use permits for water will reveal that certain agricultural operations are incompatible and financially unfeasible in these areas.

  3. Thanks, Mike…this is the methodology of comparing “apples to apples” that brings about real environmental solutions to
    documented environmental problems–no “hype” just facts!

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