Robert L. Knight: Paying The Springs Bill, Op-Ed In Gainesville Sun, Aug. 24, 2014
Dr. Robert Knight of Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute has written an opinion piece in today’s Gainesville Sun, pointing out in specific detail how our government leaders have failed to manage our water resources in the state.
The original article in the Sun can be seen at this LINK, or continue reading for a reproduction on this post. OSFR thanks Nathan Crabbe and the Gainesville Sun for permission to publish this fine article in its entirety.
Robert L. Knight: Paying the springs billBy Robert L. Knight
Special to The Sun
Published: Sunday, August 24, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 12:30 a.m.
On July 11, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection provided the 2014-2015 springs’ restoration funding project plan to the Legislative Budget Commission.
As expected, the Florida Legislature appropriated $25 million for springs’ restoration and the water management districts kicked in an additional $12.8 million of state money. Local governments pledged to spend $31.7 million, for a total of $69.5 million to help ease the hurt at the state’s springs.
Combined with last year’s pledge of $37 million in state and local funding for “springs restoration,” this sounds like a good start. Unfortunately for Florida taxpayers, this is just the tip of the springs-cleanup iceberg that will be required to pull our springs back from the brink of disaster. Lax enforcement of Florida’s environmental laws by state regulators has resulted in the need for another multi-billion dollar environmental cleanup painfully reminiscent of the Everglades boondoggle in South Florida.
First, some history of springs’ protection efforts in Florida. In 1999, Jim Stevenson, former chief biologist with the Florida Park Service, led Gov. Jeb Bush and DEP Secretary David Struhs on a canoe trip to see firsthand the Ichetucknee springs and river that were being threatened by a cement factory. This momentous trip was a response to strong public opposition to this threat to the springs and aquifer.
After the canoe trip, Jim Stevenson was appointed to organize and chair the Florida Springs Task Force. In 2000, the 16 public and private members of the task force published a report detailing the magnitude and causes of spring impairments and laying out a plan for springs’ restoration.
During the next 10 years, the Florida Legislature and Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist allocated $23 million to the Florida Springs Initiative for springs research and protection projects. That expenditure was augmented by springs-related funding from the St. Johns River and Southwest Florida water management districts. A significant increase in the scientific and public awareness of Florida’s springs’ crisis was provided by the state’s relatively small investment.
After entering office in 2010, Gov. Rick Scott cancelled the Florida Springs Initiative and drastically reduced funding and staff at DEP and all five of Florida’s water management districts. By those actions, Gov. Scott and his like-minded Legislature effectively brought all springs’ research and restoration efforts to a screeching halt.
Fast forward to last year. Amid another growing outcry from concerned citizens about the springs’ tragedy of declining flows and increasing nitrate pollution unfolding throughout North Florida, the Legislature, governor and water management districts made a sudden about-face and once again started funding “springs’ restoration.” And so this year the ante for springs’ restoration projects was raised again by our elected officials.
Like last year, this year’s springs’ projects were selected behind closed doors by DEP and water management district staffs, with no citizen involvement. No independent springs’ task force was formed to develop an overall springs’ project plan, quantitative evaluation procedures or adaptive management methodology to verify that this large sum of money will result in measurable benefits at our springs.
While some of this year’s proposed projects may indeed help to reduce nutrient and flow impacts at the springs, government planning without public involvement is suspect from the outset. An examination of the springs’ restoration projects planned with taxpayer money is needed to separate the springs’ “turkeys” from those projects that may actually benefit the public interest.
Most suspect are seven “agricultural” projects on DEP’s list that provide taxpayer support to private, for-profit businesses that are harming the public’s groundwater and springs. For example, a total of $8.9 million of this year’s springs’ funding is designated to buy new agricultural irrigation systems. Another $3.6 million is earmarked to subsidize a phosphate company in North Florida that has contributed to reduced flows at White Sulfur Spring for decades. Over $12 million is allocated for providing central sewer hookups to private developments near Wakulla Spring.
The remaining DEP projects include connection of septic tanks to public sewer systems, wastewater treatment plant upgrades and installation of water-efficient toilets and faucets. Hopefully, these projects will provide some true springs’ benefits. But the state did not follow a publicly vetted springs’ restoration agenda or provide an evaluation and ranking of the most cost effective alternatives necessary to protect our springs.
The current Florida state government has no estimate for how much it will ultimately cost to reverse the existing damage to our springs. But the science is clear. Comprehensive springs’ restoration must include a significant reduction in groundwater pumping and a greatly reduced reliance on the use of nitrogen fertilizers. Both of these actions are attainable with little to no expenditure of tax dollars. Our springs deserve better from our elected officials.
Robert L. Knight is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, a private, nonprofit corporation located in North Florida.