Editorial: Springs plans need challenging

More has to be done, both with the Basin Management Action Plans and the state’s commitment to saving these wonderful waters. If Florida is going to save its spectacular freshwater springs, state environmental regulators are going to have to step up their game and rewrite their long-term plans for restoring these unique waters.

To try to force that to happen, seven local environmental groups have filed administrative challenges to the state’s much-ballyhooed Basin Management Action Plans that were mandated by the Legislature in its Springs and Aquifer Protection Act of 2016. The act identified 30 “outstanding Florida springs” that the state Department of Environmental Protection must target for conservation and restoration, largely by reducing nitrogen pollution and stemming the reduction in springs flows. Filing the challenge of the Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs BMAPs are the Silver Springs Alliance and Rainbow River Conservation Inc. All of the seven complainants are members of the Florida Springs Council, a statewide coalition of springs advocacy groups.

The groups contend the DEP-drafted BMAPs have inadequate plans for clean-up of septic tanks, fail to factor in new growth, are based on poor scientific modeling and lack details about future projects to correct springs-related issues. But Springs Council Executive Director Ryan Smart was more specific: “We’re still at the point where we can solve this within a decade. It’s nitrates in, nitrates out.”

Exactly. It’s about the nitrates. The springs groups are right — the BMAPs do not go far enough to eliminate nitrates reaching the aquifer and then the springs. Study after study, many of which DEP has participated in, have shown the culprits in springs deterioration are an overabundance of septic tanks, poorly managed agriculture waste and fertilizer runoff from both farms and homes, along with overpumping.

While the BMAPs address these issues, they do so timidly in our view. Septic tank removals and upgrades are in the works, but so far only a few hundred have been converted in Marion County, where there are an estimated 100,000 septic tanks. Reducing agriculture waste is left to “best practices” with the farmers policing themselves. As for fertilizer, there is no program or legislation limiting the use of phosphate-based fertilizers — and we keep adding homes. As for spring flow, the water management districts overseeing Rainbow and Silver springs just last year voted to allow their flow levels to fall even more as part of the agencies’ Minimum Florida and Levels studies, also legislatively mandated.

In DEP’s defense, they are being asked to undo decades of damage to our springs. To be truly aggressive in cleaning up our springs will require substantial investment in septic tank conversion and agriculture waste disposal improvements, not to mention wastewater treatment and public utility expansion. In addition to Rainbow and Silver, other springs and rivers that are part of the administrative challenge are Ichetucknee and the Santa Fe River, the Suwannee River Basin, Volusia Blue, Wekiwa and Rock springs. These are state and local treasures. They are iconic. They also are fed from the same source from which we get our drinking water.The springs groups are right: the BMAPs are not going to be effective because they do not go far enough. DEP, however, has to be given the resources to make serious strides toward the stated — and ambitious — goal of springs restoration within 20 years. More has to be done, both with the BMAPs and the state’s commitment to saving these wonderful waters. Otherwise the demise of springs is only starting.

Read original article here: https://www.ocala.com/opinion/20190122/editorial-springs-plans-need-challenging