Wisdom Set Forth by Dr. Bob Palmer – Who is Listening?

Today in the Gainesville Sun Dr. Bob Palmer of the Florida Springs Council has written an opinion piece that needs to be widely circulated, especially among our legislators.  Dr. Palmer has give some advice, here advice being a synonym of common sense.  Will anyone listen?

MFLs and BMAPs can only work if there is political willingness to allocate some responsibility to those causing the problems and sufficient funding to make a real dent in the problem.

For example, if an MFL is being violated because there’s not enough water for both humans and the environment, we should stop issuing additional pumping permits. What could be more logical and less radical than the notion of “when you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

The  logical reaction to this, is to ask our legislators, governor,  DEP leaders and water district managers, why have you not done this?  Can you, will you, give an honest answer?

Among other pertinent thoughts, kudos to Rep. Clovis Watson for opposing bad HB 7003.

Continue reading here for a re-print of this opinion piece, or follow this link to see the article in the Sun.

Bob Palmer: Bill would do nothing to speed up restoration of springs

By Bob Palmer
Special to The Sun

Published: Friday, March 13, 2015 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 1:26 p.m.

 

Spring has sprung in Gainesville. So has springs legislation in Tallahassee, in the form of two water-resource bills with springs provisions: HB 7003 and SB 918. If enacted, the House bill would do nothing to speed up the restoration of our degraded springs. The Senate bill is far more springs-friendly but could be improved with bolder vision.

Reasons for the degradation of Florida’s springs are well-known — too much groundwater pumping and too much nitrogen pollution. The regulatory solutions have long been in place, in some cases for more than 40 years. Minimum flows and levels (MFLs) are scientifically calculated to provide sufficient water to support both human uses and the needs of the environment. Basin management action plans (BMAPs) are designed to restore the health of water bodies compromised by nutrient pollution.

Unfortunately, effective utilization of these tools has been hamstrung by weak groundwater models, agency unwillingness to confront various interest groups, political interference and the high bar facing any legal challenge. Conditions in springs have generally worsened even as additional weak MFLs and BMAPs have been approved.

Despite the self-congratulations that accompanied the House’s 106-9 passage of HB 7003 last week, the bill changes nothing in current law to help springs. The bill would require that BMAPs in priority Florida springs be completed by 2018, but that is probably going to happen anyway. The bill does nothing to speed up springs MFLs and is silent on water conservation. From our local House delegation, Rep. Clovis Watson voted against HB 7003, while Reps. Keith Perry and Elizabeth Porter supported it.

Sen. Charlie Dean’s SB 918, on the other hand, has some new and useful tools for springs restoration. It mandates the delineation of springs management and protection zones, bans several polluting activities in these zones, confronts the politically sensitive issue of septic-tank cleanup, and — perhaps most importantly — toughens the standard for MFLs.

But the Senate bill also relies heavily on accelerated use of MFLs and BMAPs, which have been ineffective, at least in our local area. For example, an MFL has been in place at Fanning and Manatee springs since 2006, but reductions in flows for the past decade are still three times what’s allowed by the MFL. Several other MFLs have been legally challenged, and more challenges may be expected if they continue to be ineffective. Our experience with two local BMAPs is no more sanguine. Neither the Orange Creek Basin BMAP, covering the eastern half of Alachua County, nor the Santa Fe River Basin BMAP have a realistic timetable for recovery, or even improvement, of their respective water basins.

MFLs and BMAPs can only work if there is political willingness to allocate some responsibility to those causing the problems and sufficient funding to make a real dent in the problem.

Amendment 1, with its $20 billion-plus in environmental funding over the next 20 years, could make a real difference in springs restoration, but don’t expect a massive windfall. Gov. Rick Scott’s budget includes $50 million for springs, the same amount that the Amendment 1 coalition has recommended. Fifty million is not chump-change, but it’s not going to lead to a rapid cleanup of the scores of large, affected springs. Consider that it took a $250 million wastewater upgrade in Tallahassee to reduce nitrogen in Wakulla Springs by one half, and that despite this massive spending, nitrogen levels there are still above the 0.35 mg/l springs standard.

Representatives from state agencies tout the springs projects funded from the tens of millions provided in the last two state budgets. While these projects will reduce groundwater use, nitrogen pollution or both, their philosophy seems to be to pay the polluters to pollute a bit less. The largest project in the Suwannee district, for example, is a multimillion-dollar effort to reduce groundwater use at PCS Phosphate. This multi-national will pay 6 percent of the cost of the project; is it unreasonable to expect that the taxpayers shouldn’t be stuck with 94 percent of the tab?

Proponents express the benefits of these projects in terms of gallons of groundwater not pumped or pounds of nitrogen not applied. This is a bit like balancing a checkbook by only counting deposits, not withdrawals. While it’s admirable to save water or fertilizer, these savings are only meaningful if they fit into a pattern of long-term diminishing use of these resources.

Our state agencies are less inclined to discuss these long-term trends, but we know that agricultural water use in the Suwannee district is projected to increase by 98 percent over the next 20 years. And the Chamber of Commerce tells us that Florida’s population will increase by 20 to 30 percent by 2030. Saving 10 percent on water use won’t help much if demand is going up by 20 percent.

In summary, the Senate bill would be a major improvement in law. But by relying largely on acceleration of current tools, it would not restore springs anytime soon. We need stronger, better tools. The Florida Springs Council has recommended 12 such tools: http://springsforever.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2015.03-05-V2-Response-to-House-Passage-of-HB-7003.pdf

Some may dismiss these ideas as too far outside the scope of the current debate. They are, and we make no apology for that. But they are also very sensible.

For example, if an MFL is being violated because there’s not enough water for both humans and the environment, we should stop issuing additional pumping permits. What could be more logical and less radical than the notion of “when you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

Similarly, granting a conservation easement on a single large farm in return for a commitment to reduce nitrogen or water use could be far more cost-effective than buying high-tech tools which enable a polluter to continue current practices.

Bob Palmer chairs the Legislative Committee of the Florida Springs Council.

OSFR President Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson is one of the founders of the Florida Springs Council and sits on the Executive Committee.

We are grateful to Nathan Crabbe and the Gainesville Sun for permission to re-print this article in its entirety, and also for the consistent good work they do to protect Florida’s resources and environment.

http://www.gainesville.com/

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