Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

Be Informed.


Slimy green algae flows in the current in the main spring at the Silver Springs nature park on Wednesday July 25, 2012. Years of drought, nitrate pollution have reduced the flow and spawned lots of green and brown algae growth compromising water clarity and quality. Alan Youngblood/Star-Banner

Fred Hiers of the Gainesville Sun has written an article on Tues. Feb. 23 2016 about Silver Springs, one of Florida’s greatest and most abused springs.  FDEP spends a lot of money; plans and BMAPS abound, and still the spring founders, as we have posted many times here.

Robert Knight and others have shown that the solution is simple:  stop excessive water withdrawals and limit fertilizer and septic tank pollutants from entering the springshed.

The best information concerning not only Silver Springs, but the sad plight of our springs in general, and the inexcusable reasons why, and the simple solutions can be found here at this link:


Silver Springs Alliance reveals tougher plan for cleaner water

By Fred Hiers

Staff writer

Published: Monday, February 22, 2016 at 5:42 p.m.

Last Modified: Monday, February 22, 2016 at 5:42 p.m.

After condemning the Florida Department of Environmental Protection plan to clean up Silver Springs, local environmentalists now are proposing their own plan to remedy to the polluted waterway.


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This is an alternative to the plan the DEP unveiled to the public earlier this year. The DEP’s plan would incrementally remove unwanted nutrients from the springs but has no guarantees that the cutbacks in fertilizer use and private septic tank decommissions would be enough.

Environmentalists say the DEP’s plan won’t come close to reducing Silver Springs’ nitrogen levels 79 percent — the figure both FDEP and environmentalists agree is the percentage reduction of nitrogen that must be achieved.

Dr. Robert Knight

The Silver Springs Alliance proposal was authored by Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in Gainesville and president of the alliance. That plan proposes far deeper cuts in the pollutants that area residents and businesses are contributing to the groundwater and eventually the springs. The goal is to reduce nitrogen levels to 0.35 milligrams per liter of water.

“To achieve this goal it may be necessary to reduce all uses of nitrogen fertilizer in the Silver Springshed and to connect a significant number of on-site sewage systems to central sewer with advanced levels of nitrogen reduction,” Knight wrote in the proposal.

“One approach would be to phase in cuts to all nitrogen fertilizer use in the springshed at about 50 percent reduction in the first five years, followed by a second-phased reduction of an additional 50 percent over the next five years,” Knight wrote.

And if that wasn’t sufficient, there might have to be one “additional phased reduction if found to be necessary based on the measured nitrate-nitrogen levels in Silver Springs,” Knight said.

“A partial ban on fertilizer use would allow greater flexibility for agricultural producers to develop less polluting cropping strategies,” he wrote.

“Human wastewater nitrogen loads in the springshed can be reduced by implementing advanced nitrogen removal for all central wastewater plants and by providing centralized collection and wastewater treatment for all high-density septic tank areas.”

Other nitrogen removal strategies involving “constructed wetlands, biological nutrient removal processes, and nitrogen-removal on-site systems” should also be considered as ways to remove the unwanted polluting nutrient.

Knight doesn’t say in his report how these projects would be paid for, but one source could be Amendment 1 funds, which are projected to be about $700 million annually. Approved last year, Amendment 1 allots funds for water and land management and purchase.

Another Silver Springs Alliance proposal is to recover some of the lost flow of the springs, down about one-third over the past few decades.

Knight said to recover the flow, the state should reduce groundwater pumping more than 132 million gallons per day in the area that affects Silver Springs flows. In comparison, the City of Ocala is allotted less than 13 mgd of groundwater pumping.

Knight also calls for removing the Kirkpatrick Dam on the Ocklawaha River, noting in the report it “deserves the highest priority to provide open passage for aquatic wildlife between the Atlantic Ocean and St. Johns River and Silver Springs.”

Plans to clean up Florida water bodies are common and typically referred to as BMAPs, short for Basin Management Action Plan. Such plans guide Florida agencies on how to repair damaged springs and rivers. The plans are referenced when grants are allotted for environmental projects.

DEP’s BMAP proposal calls for nitrogen reductions, too, but at only a fraction compared to what Knight and other environmentalists want.

Earlier this year, Drew Bartlett, DEP’s deputy secretary for water policy and ecosystem restoration, told the Star-Banner that the new Silver Springs BMAP is a good place to start, and that changes can be phased in for the future.

Bartlett did not respond to a Star-Banner request for comment about Knight’s proposals on Monday.

Both sides agree with the BMAP’s estimates as to where the nitrogen is coming from.

— The BMAP estimates that 38 percent of the nitrogen that makes its way into the springs comes from septic tanks. There are more than 50,000 septic tanks in Marion County.

— Cattle farms contribute about 17 percent, followed by agricultural fertilization (11 percent), atmospheric deposition (10 percent), horse farms (9 percent) and urban fertilization (8 percent). The remainder comes from wastewater treatment plants and drainage wells.

Bartlett contends that if all the agricultural industries follow best management practices, their contribution would diminish by 30 percent in five years. He said most agricultural businesses comply with DEP requests to follow best management practices; in fact, the state agency has never had to fine a violator to force compliance.

As for septic tanks, Bartlett said DEP is pushing hard to get local governments to partner with the state in funding programs that help property owners make the switch.

Bartlett said his plan is to have, in 20 years, septic tanks closest to the springs “addressed,” thus making a significant dent in that sector’s nitrogen contribution.

Bartlett wouldn’t say how many septic tanks would need to be removed or how much nitrogen would be reduced by their removal. There are 24,000 septic tanks in the primary spring recharge zone.

The Florida Springs Council, the umbrella organization for dozens of Florida environmental groups, also calls DEP clean-up insufficient. It is calling for federal intervention.

Part of the solution is to educate the public about the issue, Knight said in his report.

“This will require public presentations, public meetings, newspaper and television reporting, rallies at Silver Springs and many partnerships,” he said. “Silver Springs Alliance, Inc., will most likely be the leader in this effort, with technical support from the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute and other springs alliance advocacy groups throughout North Florida.”

Reach Fred Hiers at and 352-867-4157

This post not approved by MBWE

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