Florida Springs Council has identified FIVE areas of law that Governor DeSantis and The Florida Department of Environmental Protection are refusing to follow
How can we expect Governor DeSantis and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to enforce laws to protect the environment when they won’t even follow those laws themselves?
Right now, numerous laws to protect Florida’s springs, rivers, and estuaries are being violated or ignored by Governor DeSantis and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein.
If implemented, these laws would address some of the biggest problems facing Florida’s waters.
There is no excuse for their negligence.
Water Management Districts are the primary agencies for regulating water use in Florida. Each District is overseen by a volunteer governing board whose members are appointed by the Governor.
Florida Statute 373.073 requires the Governor to make a specific number of appointments to each governing board for each year he is in office, “to help maintain consistency and continuity in the exercise of governing board duties.”
Governor DeSantis has failed to follow the law and appoint the statutorily mandated number of governing board members to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, St. Johns River Water Management District, Suwanee River Water Management District, and Northwest Florida Water Management District. Due to Governor DeSantis’ neglect, the St. Johns River Water Management District has been operating without quorum for months and other Districts will soon be in the same condition.
At the beginning of September, only 17 of 40 Governing Board seats will be filled on the four water management districts which are responsible for protecting Florida’s springs. These Governing Boards need to make decisions on taxation, budgeting, water use permits (like the Nestle/Seven Springs permit), the Central Florida Water Initiative, and more in the next few months.
Water Management District
Governing Board Appointments
Take Action Now
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Tell him to follow the law (F.S. 373.073) by appointing qualified representatives to fill the nine 2020 vacancies on the Governing Boards of the St. Johns River Water Management District, Southwest Florida Water Management District, Suwannee River Water Management District, and Northwest Florida Water Management District. These appointments must correct the current lack of representation by scientists and conservationists on water management district governing boards.
Governor DeSantis’ apathy towards Florida’ springs and rivers and refusal to follow the law has left these Water Management Districts unable to perform their most basic duties and taxpayers without representation.
Florida Springs Council took action by sending THIS LETTER to Governor DeSantis. Now it's your turn.
Rule to Protect Outstanding Florida
Springs from Over-Pumping
Four years ago, the FL Legislature passed the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. The law required DEP to adopt new water permitting rules that prevent groundwater withdrawals that are harmful to Outstanding Florida Springs (F.S. 373.219(3)).
Since then, DEP had done nothing to develop or adopt this mandated rule to limit harmful water
withdrawals, blatantly ignoring the law and their duty to protect Florida’s waters. Instead, for the fourth year in a row, DEP just granted themselves an extension to delay rulemaking, blocking this important protection for springs and rivers from going into effect.
What has DEP been doing while ignoring the law and neglecting their core responsibility to protect Florida’s springs? Prioritizing rulemaking to help utilities and developers.
DEP had plenty of time to oversee the vast Central Florida Water Initiative rulemaking process to find “new ways of meeting the demands for fresh water.” DEP even had time to undertake totally discretionary rulemaking to weaken wetlands protections by assuming Section 404 permitting responsibilities from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Had DEP followed the law, this additional protection for Florida’s springs would be in effect right now and apply to many consumptive use permit applications across central and north Florida, including the Nestle/Seven Springs permit application. Instead, Florida’s water management districts continue to hand out new and increased water use permits even as our springs and rivers deteriorate.
The Florida Springs Council has called for a moratorium on approving consumptive use permits until DEP adopts the required rule.
Adopt Basin Management Action Plans
(BMAPs) that Meet Water Quality Goals
373.807 and 403.067
Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) are Florida’s primary regulatory tool for restoring polluted springs and rivers. BMAPs should provide a roadmap to reduce pollution and restore impaired waters. Florida Statutes 373.807 and 403.067 require that BMAPs achieve the Total Maximum Daily load (TMDL - the maximum amount of pollutant that can enter a water body and still meet water quality goals.)
However, when DEP created BMAPs for Outstanding Florida Springs many of those plans only achieved a small percentage of the pollution reduction necessary to achieve water quality goals. For example, the BMAP for Rainbow River only achieved 18% of the reduction necessary; the Santa Fe BMAP achieved only 25%; and the Suwannee BMAP achieved less than 50%. Even if successfully implemented, these plans assure our springs will continue to be polluted decades in the future.
DEP could have used all the tools available under current law to create better Basin Management Action Plans that provide a path to springs restoration. Instead, they shirked their responsibility under the law, gave in to Florida’s polluters, and published plans designed to fail.
Verification of Agricultural
Best Management Practices
Agricultural pollution is by far the greatest source of nitrogen in Outstanding Florida Springs. Under current law, agricultural polluters are only required to use “best
management practices” which are assumed to reduce the amount of nutrients entering Florida’s waters. Using best management practices gives agricultural polluters a presumption of compliance with state water quality standards.
Florida law requires the Department of Environmental Protection to verify the effectiveness of agricultural best management practices at “representative sites.” (F.S. 403.067(7)(c)3.).
But as FSC learned during our legal challenge to five failed water quality plans, DEP has only successfully verified the effectiveness of best management practices for one crop, “Ridge Citrus.” No best management practice for any other agricultural activity has ever been verified at a representative site, yet agricultural producers are still granted free reign to pollute as much as they want.
Could the reason that DEP refuses to follow the law and even attempt to verify the effectiveness of agricultural best management practices be that they already know they don’t work? Most likely. DEP recently acknowledged in a court filing, “The record reflects that it is not unreasonable to question the utility of existing agricultural BMPs as a means to achieve TMDL compliance in springs basins.” DEP continues to ignore legal requirements to protect our waters in order to protect the largest polluter of Florida springs.
Adopt and Implement
Improved Best Management Practices
Current law requires that when water quality problems continue despite the implementation of best management practices, DEP reevaluate and revise those practices (F.S. 403.067(7)(c)4.).
However, DEP has taken no action to revise best management practices, even when confronted with evidence of their failure.
When DEP reviewed the effectiveness of best management practices in the Santa Fe River Basin they found, “no significant decrease in nitrate concentrations were observed over the four-year period”
despite claiming almost universal enrollment in the agricultural Best Management Practice program.
Still, DEP refuses to follow the law and develop best management practices that actually achieve water quality goals. Because agricultural is the major polluter of many Florida springs, without improved best management practices, these springs and rivers have no hope of achieving water quality goals in the future.