Defending Springs in the Courtroom:
An Update on the BMAP legal challenge
Above: Dr. Burt Eno, president of Rainbow River Conservation, testifies as Judge Ffolkes looks on. FSC's legal team, far right to left, includes FSC executive director Ryan Smart, Save the Manatee Club attorney Anne Harvey, Dr. Bob Palmer, attorney John Thomas, and attorney Doug McLaughlin.
FSC's legal challenge will determine the future of Volusia Blue Springs, Silver Springs, Rainbow Springs, and the springs of the Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers.
BMAPs - what are they?
When a body of water is impaired by pollution, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection creates plans to address the pollution and meet water quality goals, known as "Basin Management Action Plans," or BMAPs.
Thirty springs were identified by the 2016 Springs and Aquifer Protection Act as large or notable enough for special protections, they are referred to in law as "Outstanding Florida Springs" or OFS. According to that 2016 law, any OFS impaired by pollution must have a BMAP plan to address the pollution and achieve water quality goals within 20 years.
Twenty-four of the thirty OFS are considered to be impaired by pollution and must therefore have a BMAP designed to achieve water quality goals.
When the BMAPs for those polluted springs were published by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in 2018, we saw that in many cases, they were written in a way that would, under the best of circumstances, achieve only a small fraction, sometimes less than a quarter, of the nitrogen reduction necessary to meet water quality standards, not the full amount required by law. The plans also freeze Florida in 2017, addressing the nutrient pollution that existed in 2017, with no plans for the increases in pollution loads as our population and development grow. They failed to meaningfully address pollution from agriculture, which is the largest pollution source to Florida springs, contributing about 80% of nutrient pollution to springs state-wide, more than twice the pollution from septics, wastewater, and urban fertilizers combined. The plans were legally and scientifically faulty according to our legal and scientific experts and partners.
These plans were not going to get anywhere close to restoring Florida's springs.
BMAPs are in place for 20 years before being reconsidered, so the Florida Springs Council and our member groups were forced to make a tough decision: do we allow the plans to be put into place, and accept increased springs pollution for the next 20 years at least, or do we band together to challenge the FDEP in court?
There's only one right answer here. We joined forces with member groups including Ichetucknee Alliance, Our Santa Fe River, Rainbow River Conservation, Save the Manatee Club, Sierra Club, and Silver Springs Alliance, as well as individuals Jim Tatum and Thomas Greenhalgh and filed a legal challenge against DEP to write new plans.
In 2019 we spent two weeks in hearings in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.
Where are we now? 2022
It took nearly TWO YEARS (yes, that was incredibly out of the ordinary, most cases take a matter of months at most) after the end of the hearing to get a ruling, which was not in our favor. The judge’s final order did not address whether the state’s Basin Action Management Plans would succeed, but focused instead on if the plans “complied with the applicable statutory framework and legislative intent.” In other words, the judge ruled that the state’s only requirement was to provide the plans, regardless of whether or not what they wrote was scientifically sound.
We appealed that decision, and oral arguments in the First District Court of Appeal was scheduled for Tuesday June 14. You can read the entire appeal HERE.
Of note is that this case made the list of ten "Cases of Public Interest," a list of high-profile court cases where the outcome would have far-reaching effects. (Our other case against the "Nestle" water bottling permit also made the list.)