This is very important for the fate of our springs.
Read the original article here in the Daytona News Journal.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
State geologist challenging springs action plan raised questions before
By Dinah Voyles Pulver
Posted Nov 24, 2018 at 12:39 PM
Updated Nov 24, 2018 at 11:19 PM
When groups across the state challenged new springs protection rules published by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection over the summer, one name stood out: Thomas Greenhalgh.
Greenhalgh, a hydrogeologist who works for the DEP’s Florida Geological Survey, surprised many by taking the rare step of challenging his own agency’s proposed action plan for improving water quality in the springs in the Suwannee River basin. That plan was one of 13 approved in June for springs that include Blue Spring in Orange City and Gemini Springs in DeBary. Echoing concerns voiced by Volusia County officials and environmental advocates, Greenhalgh’s letter stated the springs plans made claims that are “inaccurate and unsubstantiated.”
A review of records provided to The News-Journal include a reprimand Greenhalgh received in January 2014. The main concern in the reprimand was that critical comments Greenhalgh made in emails about water policy decisions and state government leadership could become public.
The reprimand also shows Greenhalgh has been trying for at least five years to raise alarms to his superiors about the effectiveness of best management practices for agriculture producers. The springs action plans count on farmers using practices that conserve water and reduce the use of nitrogen-containing fertilizers to help improve the quality of water that flows to the springs. Greenhalgh has said the practices now in place aren’t adequate.
Greenhalgh, who has been employed with DEP since 1988 and the Geological Survey since 2001, has declined to comment. At an annual salary of $49,197, he has done extensive work studying recharge areas around springs and the movement of groundwater.
For years, springs enthusiasts and scientists have been concerned about the rising level of pollutants in the water flowing from springs, the same source that nearly all of Florida relies on for drinking water.
The 13 “basin management action plans,” which spell out actions the state and local governments intend to take to improve or protect spring water quality, were mandated by state legislators two years ago and had to be complete by July 1. But after more than a dozen groups and individuals asked for more time to review the plans, the department put them on hold until January 4, 2019, giving the groups an additional six months to review the plans and decided whether to challenge them by asking for state hearings.
Greenhalgh, whose family owns a spring along the Suwannee, was one of two people who have already filed requests for administrative hearing. Greenhalgh disputed the state’s estimate of how much pollution would be removed from spring water by the projects listed in the plan. The department dismissed both of those requests, but granted Greenhalgh and a resident in the Santa Fe River basin, Paul Still, six months to rewrite their requests and resubmit.
Many of Greenhalgh’s points about the action plans for the springs were similar to comments provided to the state by Volusia County’s environmental management staff and by Stetson University’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience. Clay Henderson, a longtime environmental advocate and attorney who heads Stetson’s water institute, cannot remember another instance where a DEP employee has filed a request for administrative hearing on a department proposal.
It’s not the first time Greenhalgh has spoken up about the springs, and whether the state is adequately protecting them.
The 2014 reprimand from Jon Arthur, director of the Geological Survey, took Greenhalgh to task for his frank summary comments provided in a September 2013 memo to his boss, Rodney DeHan, after he attended a meeting of the Florida Department of Agriculture’s water policy advisory council. Responding to remarks by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Greenhalgh wrote: “I wonder if he knows that the Suwannee (River)’s pollution load is similar, if not more than that discharging from the Everglades.”
Greenhalgh stated the advisory council members should know that current best management practices would not achieve acceptable water quality. He wrote that the information being stated about the practices was “unsupportable and those doing this know it.”
He also wrote that he suspected the St. Johns River Water Management District’s executive director at the time, Hans Tanzler, “doesn’t have a science background.” Tanzler, an attorney, was serving as an appointed board member for the water district when he was tapped first to become its general counsel and then its director. Before his appointment, he was a chief executive of a Jacksonville company.
Greenhalgh’s supervisor asked him to rewrite the report, highlighting several passages that needed revision, including the one about best management practices. In the reprimand months later, Arthur said Greenhalgh’s comments about the presenters were “inappropriate.”
“You have been told numerous times that our emails can be subject to a public records request and that any opinions stated in your DEP emails, must be focused on promoting the Department’s views regarding that issue,” Arthur wrote. “Your personal opinions and degrading comments regarding other government officials during work time will not be tolerated.”
“Opinions that are not scientifically-based shall not be expressed during Department business or via Department email,” Arthur wrote. “This includes all Department business communications that are verbal or written.”
The reprimand included minutes from two 2012 staff meetings where employees were warned to be mindful that all of their emails are public record: “Please review all your emails before sending and make sure it is something you wouldn’t mind being published in the Tampa Bay Times.”
In the reprimand, Arthur also cited an August 2013 email when Greenhalgh wrote the department had spread the responsibility for an issue to the point no one was accountable. “Now, who gets the flowers or who gets the boot depends on whether it goes sideways while this Governor (Rick Scott) is in the mansion.”
Arthur stated Greenhalgh should have followed previous advice that “some conversations are best done as sidebars and not in a public forum,” such as his work email account.
In a statement to The News-Journal, Lauren Engel, the Department’s communications director, said it would be “unfair and inaccurate to characterize one personnel action, which took place nearly five years ago, as Department policy to keep the opinions of employees out of the public eye.
“As stated in the reprimand, this employee’s supervisor found that, instead of expressing valued scientific opinion, this employee made inappropriate comments about his co-workers and other public employees,” Engel wrote. “The intent of this reprimand was to reinforce to this employee that unprofessional conduct is not appropriate.
“DEP is committed to communicating openly and transparently with our employees and the Floridians that we serve,” Engel added in an email. “Other than this written reprimand, there is no other disciplinary action documented in his personnel file, and there was no further action taken by the Department following this reprimand, which served as a warning.”
Jim Stevenson, who worked for the department for 38 years before retiring in 2003, said Greenhalgh is an expert on the impacts of agriculture on water quality who is willing to share his opinions.
“Every time I was in his company, I’d learn something,” said Stevenson, a longtime springs advocate who formerly chaired the department’s Florida Springs Task Force. Even though they have been on opposite sides of issues at times, Stevenson said he often called Greenhalgh for advice and knowledge.
“He displays tremendous courage when he thinks something isn’t going right; he’s willing to be a maverick,” said Stevenson. “He doesn’t sugar coat anything. He tells it like it is, which is a value if the agency will listen. But sometimes, due to politics, even the agency can’t do what’s right.”
Last year, Greenhalgh wrote in an email to the department’s inspector general’s office that he believes the real issue with his 2014 reprimand was concern that the truth about best management practices would be voiced.
“That is, there are no ‘verified’ water quality-based best management practices to address the nutrient loading through the groundwater and/or aquifer systems,” wrote Greenhalgh.
Best management practices are proposed in the action plans as a way to reduce the level of pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus that are used on farms and residential lawns. Nitrogen levels have increased in many springs, contributing to algae growth.
Engel said the best practices developed over the past several years, which included multiple opportunities for public comment, “clearly acknowledge that agricultural BMPs alone will not achieve the reduction goals.” Additional projects have been planned by state agencies, local governments and agriculture and environmental interests, she said. Each springs action plan will be reviewed annually and updated every five years.
John Quarterman, the Suwannee River Riverkeeper, one of the groups challenging the proposed springs action plans, called Greenhalgh “a brave man.”
“I’ll give him that. And also, of course, he’s right,” said Quarterman, who recalls meeting Greenhalgh only once, at an event to do dye trace studies in a tributary to the Suwannee.
Greenhalgh’s issues are similar to those encountered by scientists with the St. Johns River Water Management District over the past eight years, said Jim Gross, a former district scientist who was asked to resign in spring 2015.
Gross pointed out that as a licensed geologist, Greenhalgh has “a responsibility under the law to render opinions.”
It wasn’t surprising to Gross, now executive director of Florida Defenders of the Environment, that the department was trying to control the message.
“Of course it happens,” he said. He contends it continues to occur among the department-supervised water management districts, where executives make it clear that senior staff isn’t allowed to say anything that’s not “specifically approved by the executive directors,” or “contrary” to the governor’s position.
McKinley Lewis in the Governor’s Office refuted that, saying water management districts “are solely responsible for the information they release, not the Governor’s Office.”