Ryan Smart: Clean Waterways Act weakened to benefit polluters

nests petitions ryan In: Ryan Smart: Clean Waterways Act weakened to benefit polluters | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Ryan Smart. Photo by Jim Tatum

We  acknowledge the hard work and good intentions of Sen. Debbie Mayfield but must agree SB 712 does little or nothing for our springs and rivers.  As Ryan Smart writes, the omission of any changes to  the worst polluter in  the Suwannee basin (agriculture about 85 per cent) is unacceptable.

Even worse, and what Smart does not mention, is the sneaky addition by amendment of the pre-emption of local control over the Rights of Nature.  This shows the control of the polluters of this bill and shatters it for environmentalists.  When the polluters support a bill it is for a reason.

Read the entire article here in the Gainesville Sun.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

Ryan Smart: Clean Waterways Act weakened to benefit polluters


The Clean Waterways Act (SB 712), which started out in 2019 as the gold standard for water quality legislation, has been so weakened that it is no longer able to restore Florida’s springs and rivers. Lobbyists for Florida’s largest polluters now almost universally support the bill, which has been amended for their benefit.

Many call SB 712 “progress,” but it is the equivalent of using a Band-Aid to treat a gunshot wound. There’s nothing wrong with a Band-Aid, but we already know it cannot do the job.

If this is what we accept as “progress” our waters are as doomed as our patient.

Among the most egregious failures of SB 712 is its treatment of agricultural pollution. Agriculture is responsible for twice as much pollution in Outstanding Florida Spring watersheds as septic tanks, wastewater plants, and urban and sports fertilizer combined. Yet, agriculture is given a free pass in SB 712 and is the only major pollution source for which neither a remediation plan nor an enforceable ordinance is required. Instead, SB 712 relies on ineffective “best management practices” (BMPs) to curb agricultural pollution.

Last year, Florida Springs Council member groups challenged five water quality plans for Outstanding Florida Springs because they would not achieve water quality goals, known as TMDLs. Although we are still waiting on the judge’s decision, what we learned from the Department of Environmental Protection is important and needs to be understood by lawmakers, conservationists and the public at large.

DEP acknowledged in a court filing that, “The record reflects that it is not unreasonable to question the utility of existing agricultural BMPs as a means to achieve TMDL compliance in springs basins.” When you cut through the double-negatives and acronyms, DEP is admitting current best management practices are not useful for achieving springs’ water quality goals.

DEP came to this conclusion because most agricultural BMPs have never been verified on-the-ground, even though DEP has been required to perform on-site verifications of all BMPs since 2013. DEP has flagrantly ignored this law and blames the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for its failure.

The evidence shows that BMPs don’t protect springs. BMPs have been required in the Santa Fe River Basin since 2013 and most farmers there have enrolled in BMPs as required. However, when reviewing the effectiveness of those practices, DEP found, “No significant decrease in nitrate concentrations were observed over the four-year period.” In fact, according to DEP, even after full implementation of current BMPs many springs and rivers will still be heavily polluted.

Current BMPs will not achieve water quality goals because they are designed to maximize crop yield — not minimize nutrient pollution, and nothing in this bill requires the adoption of better BMPs.

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein defends the bill by claiming two “improvements” to agricultural pollution in SB 712. First, the bill requires the two state agencies responsible for protecting water quality, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, to share information — something they should have been doing all along.

Second, it requires inspections to ensure farmers are implementing the same BMPs that DEP already knows don’t work — a waste of time and resources our waters and taxpayers cannot afford. These “improvements” are not meaningful progress but evidence of the sorry state of our regulatory system.

This isn’t about making the perfect the enemy of the good. It’s about making a bill that will work versus one that will fail….

Ryan Smart is executive director of the Florida Springs Council.

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