To ‘The Fellowship of the Springs,’ Florida is selling out an environmental treasure

 

corralmiami1 In: To ‘The Fellowship of the Springs,’ Florida is selling out an environmental treasure | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
The Fellowship of the Springs documentary (Official Trailer) The Fellowship of the Springs take viewers into the wonder and beauty of Florida’s unique but troubled springs. Florida has the largest and highest concentration of fresh water springs on earth, and the fight to save them is raging. By Oscar Corral

 

corralO In: To ‘The Fellowship of the Springs,’ Florida is selling out an environmental treasure | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Oscar Corral

In this excellent piece, Oscar Corral documents very well just how Florida is killing its environmental treasure for money.  The spokespersons for the state agencies whom he quotes here in this article have no  statements which validate their agencies’ actions.  Neither does Noah Valenstein, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, nor his boss, Gov. DeSantis.  Most but not all of these people will admit, as does Jenette Seachrist, that our springs are declining, but they will not explain why they continue to give away the water, and why they spend taxpayers’ money making intricate plans to  remedy the water problem when they have no intention of reaching their goals.

I suppose because it is their job to remedy the water problem and so they have to play-act and pretend to be doing that, even though they know it is all a farce.

Sad, very sad.

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


To ‘The Fellowship of the Springs,’ Florida is selling out
an environmental treasure

By Oscar Corral April 11, 2021 07:00 AM

 

The Fellowship of the Springs documentary (Official Trailer)

The Fellowship of the Springs take viewers into the wonder and beauty of Florida’s unique but troubled springs. Florida has the largest and highest concentration of fresh water springs on earth, and the fight to save them is raging. By Oscar Corral

Thomas Greenhalgh risked his job and career in 2019 when he sued his own employer, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, to challenge the state’s plans to protect Florida’s imperiled springs from increasing pollution.

Greenhalgh, a veteran hydrogeologist and expert on the
underground flows that feed North Florida’s springs, argued
that the sandy soils and porous rock of the region made
them especially vulnerable — a position supported by other
springs advocates and independent scientists in a longrunning lawsuit
seeking tougher state restrictions on how surrounding farms and other
industries use fertilizer.

The little-noticed ruling finally came down in February,
overshadowed by a water management district decision the
same week to allow the multinational conglomerate Nestlé to
expand its lucrative bottled water business by drawing up to
another million gallons a day from Ginnie Springs, a popular
swimming and tourist spot. For springs advocates, the
decision by administrative law Judge Francine M. Ffolkes
would prove a double blow — one that actually carries much
deeper implications for the precarious future of Florida’s
springs.

She let the state rule stand. It basically compels farms to
implement ineffective “best management practices” that
allow them to comply with the rule — but without meeting
water quality standards necessary for springs restoration or
even drinking water in some cases.“It’s shocking,” Greenhalgh
said in a recent interview.  “People in decision-making positions
in government don’t understand the issue and they are being
fed misinformation by others who have a stake in it or stand to gain
economically from it.”

This legal drama is just part of an upcoming documentary
covering two years of grassroots efforts to preserve the
world’s largest collection of natural springs, “The Fellowship
of the Springs.” (The two-part series was directed and
produced by Oscar Corral, a former Miami Herald reporter
and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who also wrote this
article). Part 1, Magic Waters, is scheduled to air on WPBT2
South Florida PBS at 11 a.m. on April 18 and again at 11 p.m.
on April 21. Part 2, Blue Rebellion, is scheduled to air at 11
p.m. April 22 (Earth Day), and again at 11 a.m. April 25. The
documentary is expected to air on PBS stations across
Florida later this year.

corralmiami2greenhalgh In: To ‘The Fellowship of the Springs,’ Florida is selling out an environmental treasure | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

 

The documentary chronicles an ongoing, uniquely Floridian
environmental saga.

It’s the only water conflict on earth, for example, where
actual professional mermaids are among the activists
standing in opposition to politically powerful industries and
an industry-friendly state government they feel is practically
giving away its publicly owned water supply. Frustrated by
Florida’s response, some activists are now touting the idea
of creating a new national park to revive and protect some
threatened springs.

Here’s one thing that environmentalists and state regulators
agree on: Many of Florida’s springs are at risk, largely from a
combination of reduced water flow and increased pollution.

Protections fall short

But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s
approach to protecting them is the subject of much dispute,
generating the lawsuit in 2019. At the heart of the legal battle
is something called a Basin Management Action Plan, known
as a BMAP. There are BMAPs for degraded water bodies and
systems across the state, each with the ostensible goal of
identifying sources of pollution and proposing steps to
reduce it.

Activists argued the state-drafted plans in some of the
springs areas don’t live up to their role, falling gravely short
on curbing pollution from agriculture — the biggest source of
nitrate pollution in most springs in North Florida. They say
the “best management practices” at the heart of the policy
depend on farmers to decide how much they can reduce
fertilizer use and are, practically speaking, ineffective and
poorly regulated.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection did not
respond to multiple requests for comment for this article
sent to Press Secretary Weesam Khoury. In an interview for
the documentary, Thomas Frick, the FDEP’s then-director of
the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration,
said the department wants to restore the springs.“Our goal really
is to try and limit the amount of nitrogen that’s getting to the
groundwater and then coming out of the spring,” said Frick, who
left the agency a few weeks after the interview for the
documentary in late 2019. “And we do that
through trying to be more efficient through processes,
whether that’s wastewater processes, or fertilizer processes
both on the urban and agricultural side.”

Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act
show that FDEP enforcement of environmental laws and
regulations has plummeted over the last two decades. From
2000 to 2010, FDEP averaged around 1,600 enforcement
cases per year, and averaged about $5 million a year in fines.
From 2010 to 2018, that dropped to about 480 cases per
year and about $1.3 million in fines, records show. The
agency also faced steep budget and staff cuts in that time
period, records show.

Frick explained that in 2010, under former Gov. Rick Scott,
“the shift was towards, you know, not going right to
enforcement, was to really do compliance assistance.”
“But really, what it was in general was to go in where we saw
bad actors to work with them in order to change the
behavior, because in the end, it’s not about how much
money we are getting from fines. It’s the environmental
impact to that.”The agency, however, was aware that “best
management” alone doesn’t go far enough to safeguard the
springs. In a statement to the Daytona Beach News-Journal
in 2018, DEP’s then-Communications Director Lauren Engel said the
standards the state had developed “clearly acknowledge
that agricultural BMPs alone will not achieve the reduction
goals.”

 

corralmiami3ginnie 1 In: To ‘The Fellowship of the Springs,’ Florida is selling out an environmental treasure | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
The Suwannee River Water Management District unanimously approved
a controversial permit to allow Nestle to drain close to 1 million
gallons a day from Ginnie Springs.  Photo by John Moran.

 

Ryan Smart, executive director of the Florida Springs
Council, an umbrella group that brings together more than
50 organizations that advocate for Florida’s springs, believes
politics dictated the BMAPs more than science. Despite the
ruling, he also said BMAPs in certain springs areas fail to
meet the standards of Florida law. Smart said that if theBMAPs
are implemented as written, then the Springs Council
will likely appeal Ffolkes’ decision.

“I think when you look at who runs DEP at the upper levels, it
is clear there’s a bias toward the regulated industry,’’ he said.
“All we are asking for is a plan that works and follows the
law.”

Florida’s first tourist attractions

Central and North Florida contains the largest and highest
concentration of fresh water springs in the world. Healthy
springs are blue jewels that dot the forests in the northern
part of the state, gushing fresh water from the aquifer and
creating pristine pools and rivers of clear blue water.
The most popular of these swimming and diving sites, visited
year-round by hundreds of thousands of tourists, include:
Silver Glen and Alexander Springs in the Ocala National Forest;
Ichetucknee and Gilchrist Blue Springs near
Gainesville; Rock and Blue springs near Orlando; and Weeki
Wachee and Rainbow Springs north of Tampa.

The springs were the state’s first tourist attraction, with
places like Silver Springs, Weeki Wachee and Wakulla
Springs attracting snowbirds from the Northeast and visitors
from around the world in the late 19th and early part of the
20th centuries. Today, any visitor to Disney World can stroll
along Disney Springs’ imitation spring run modeled after its
authentic counterparts nearby.

The springs also represent significant historical and folkloric
value to Florida. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce De Leon was
believed to have searched in vain for the fountain of youth, a
search some believe was triggered by Florida’s springs.
But the damage to the springs is evident. Three of the
largest springs on earth — Wakulla, Rainbow and Silver — are
all showing signs of profound struggle. Wakulla is now dark
green from pollution and no longer clear on most days;
Silver, once the biggest spring in the world, has lost more
than 30 percent of its flow, according to the Florida Springs
Institute; and Rainbow, which has also lost more than 20
percent of its flow, is facing pressure from surrounding
developments and a decision by the Southwest Florida
Water Management District in 2019 to allow more water to
be pumped from its basin.

“The springs are priceless from a standpoint that they are
unique. They are supposed to be protected by the state,”
said Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute Executive
Director Robert L. Knight. “The state is also in the business
of protecting the interests of for-profit corporations and they
seem to have more of an interest in that.”

Scientists from the three water management districts where
the most springs are located all agree that the springs are in
trouble.

‘Concerns’ don’t stop state permits

“We do have concerns about the health of our springs,” said
Jennette Seachrist, the natural resources director for the
Southwest Florida Water Management District in an interview
for the documentary. “We have five first magnitude springs
in our district and we have seen declines in their health over
the years.”

Yet all three districts also continue to approve permits and
policies that allow more water to be pumped from the
springs basins, mostly for agriculture and industries such as
mining and development.

Many activists also don’t think their concerns get a fair
hearing on boards appointed by governors, most recently,
business-first Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis. For more than a
decade, board members have often represented the same
business interests that benefit from the massive use of free
water.

corralmiami4nicolle In: To ‘The Fellowship of the Springs,’ Florida is selling out an environmental treasure | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

“I do not think the water management districts are doing
their job,” said Michelle Colson, known as Mermaid Michi,
who leads a group of activist mermaids and has a sizable
social media following. “Their job is to protect our water. I
think they’re actually failing miserably.”

Greenhalgh, who decided to retire from FDEP last year, said
his former employer is also failing in its mission to protect
Florida’s springs. For example, he said FDEP is unable or
unwilling to curb nitrate pollution from agriculture in sensitive
springs sheds in North Florida, where the intensive
agriculture industry has expanded in the last 40 years.
“The real truth is that a lot of people [at FDEP] just want to
keep their jobs, and they are unwilling to make an issue out of it,”
Greenhalgh said. “I wouldn’t go along with the flow.
They tried to fire me multiple times over different issues.”
Greenhalgh said the biggest problem with agriculture in
North Florida’s karst geology is that farmers are “growing
crops in sand and it doesn’t have the capacity to hold
nutrients.” He said the nutrients, as well as the large amount
of water needed to keep the soil moist, all flow straight
through the ground and into the Floridan aquifer. The aquifer
provides drinking water to most of Florida, and also feeds
the springs.

“In my opinion, we shouldn’t have intense agriculture in
areas of the state where the geology is such that you are just
going to contaminate the groundwater and decrease water
supply,” said Greenhalgh, whose family owns a spring along
the Suwannee River. “And the Suwannee River basin fits
that.”

He believes the risk goes beyond the springs to the Floridan
aquifer, the fresh water supply for most of North Florida.
“This will all come to a head when we have 35 million people
living here and we go into a drought and the water supply
isn’t there,” he said. “Then they will see what is happening.”
A national park for springs? One idea to help protect the springs
is to create a Florida springs national park in North Florida
in an area that stretches from Silver Springs to the Ocklawaha
River and down to the St. Johns River, where much of the land is
already publicly owned.

The Ocklawaha River on the northern rim of Ocala National
Forest is an environmental calamity, a swollen reservoir
created for a failed project to cut a canal across the center of
the state more than 50 years ago. The Cross Florida Barge
Canal idea, which intended to create a Panama-canal type
waterway, was abandoned more than half a century ago. But
the scars of its early efforts remain. The reservoir drowned
10,000-15,000 acres of forest and 20 springs. The tops of
dead trees still litter the polluted waterway.
Now, activists in North Florida are pushing to remove the
aging Rodman dam that created the reservoir, restore the
Ocklawaha River and the 20 springs that were drowned by
the reservoir.

“The Silver Springs and Ocklawaha River area have all the
ingredients for a national park,” said Margaret Spontak, chair
of the Free the Ocklawaha River Coalition. “The potential for
Governor DeSantis and congressional leaders to create an
integrated park plan for a magnet outdoor recreation area is
tremendous.”When asked about the springs national park concept, U.S.
Department of Interior Press Secretary Tyler Perry said “we
don’t have anything to share on this.”

The national parks system has been in expansion mode
lately, particularly in areas around water. In 2019, the
Department of the Interior designated Indiana Dunes
National Park on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. And
in December, the department designated New River Gorge
National Park in West Virginia.

“I actually see it as a wonderful opportunity for our state
administration and the new presidential administration to
have a bipartisan approach to celebrating our world renowned
springs by creating a national park,” said St. Johns
Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman. “Florida springs are one of the
most iconic water features of our country and the world.”

Oscar Corral, a former Miami Herald reporter, is the director
and producer of the upcoming documentary series “The
Fellowship of the Springs.” For more information visit
www.floridaspringsfilm.com

 

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