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Time to Act

 

“We don’t have a plan for dealing with septic tanks. We don’t have a plan for dealing with agriculture.”   Dr. Robert Knight

“We’ve studied the hell out of this … but no one has come up with the money and no one has come up with a plan.”  Dr. Burt Eno

On Oct. 8, 2017, the Ocala Star Banner published an editorial about the springs that is so right, so straight, so clean that it squeaks.  Dead nuts on.

We and others have said this many times, but it can’t be said enough.   DEP, WMDs and all water authorities in Florida know the solution to our water problems, but they do not want to pay the price to correct them.

That price is fewer ground water withdrawals and fewer nitrates, chemicals and industrial waste going into our rivers and the earth.  That would change agriculture and industrial practices, that would slow down development and that would raise all sorts of hell by those used to getting free water and used to polluting.

And that is why we spend millions, pretending to work on the water problems, without really solving them.  We apply band aids and thump our chests and slap each others’  backs, and write op-eds in newspapers telling the public how we are taking care of our water.

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


 

Cleanup Plans for Springs Insufficient

 When state environmental officials unveiled plans to significantly reduce the nitrogen levels in Silver and Rainbow springs five years ago, they immediately were greeted with skepticism because of the ambitious goals they set and the seemingly tepid methods they proposed for achieving those objectives.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection unveiled what Basin Management Plans (BMAP) for both Silver and Rainbow springs in 2012. The goal for Silver Springs was to reduce nitrate levels in the springs to .35 mg per liter within 15 years, an eye=popping 72 percent reduction. The goal for Rainbow Springs was even more ambitious — reduce nitrates by 80 percent in the same 15 years to reach the same .35 mg/l.

Nice goals. Necessary goals. But the objectives, while welcomed as evidence the state was finally taking action on the growing and destructive scourge of nitrates, were immediately panned by water advocates as unrealistic, especially given the lack of tough, substantive initiatives targeting the biggest contributors of nitrates.,

With a deadline looming to have finalized BMAPs in place in 2018, DEP officials are now conceding the plans for both Silver and Rainbow springs are inadequate and unlikely to get them to where they want to be in terms of nitrate levels in the springs and the rivers they feed within 15 years. Oh, and lest we forget, those waterways are fed by the same aquifer — with the same nitrates — that serves as our drinking water supply.

So far, DEP, with assistance from the water management districts, has spent millions upgrading area water treatment facilities, acquiring new watersheds and land buffers and doing some targeted septic tank mitigation. Beyond that, the agencies have engaged in stepped-up education programs for agriculture enterprises to use “best management practices,” which are largely voluntary and self-policed.

And therein lies the problem. DEP itself says that of the nitrates that foul our springs and rivers, about a one-fourth comes from septic tanks and about 70 percent comes from agriculture and home fertilizer uses. In short, upgrading water treatment plants is well and good, but unless DEP aggressively moves to limit, if not ban, phosphate-based fertilizer use and develops real and broad-scale farm waste management programs, achieving the BMAP goals will be impossible.

 As Bob Knight of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute said during a recent BMAP meeting in Ocala, “We don’t have a plan for dealing with septic tanks. We don’t have a plan for dealing with agriculture.”

The BMAP is supposed to be a road map to cleaning up our springs, rivers and lakes. But the problem is there is no clear direction on exactly how to get there. Certainly state regulators know the causes and sources of the nitrate pollution, but the steps they are taking, and propose to take, simply will not get us to the destination we all desire.

Until DEP and its water management partners acknowledge and address the septic tank and agriculture problems in a serious and sustained manner, it is certain the stated goals of reducing nitrates to .35 mg/l will not be achieved. DEP knows the problem, it knows the causes and it knows the solutions. Now it needs to make a serious commitment.

Burt Eno, president of the Dunnellon-based Rainbow River Conservancy Inc., put it well: “We’ve studied the hell out of this … but no one has come up with the money and no one has come up with a plan. We shouldn’t be studying, we should be implementing.” He’s right.

1 Comment

  1. It boils down to political will. We need real leadership, something that has been sorely lacking for a long time. And that starts with the electorate believing that the problem is, indeed, a problem. I don’t see that from my neighbors yet.

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