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Florida Springs Council's BMAP Legal Battle for Clean Springs: A Victory and Ongoing Fight

In 2019, environmental organizations led by the Florida Springs Council (FSC) took the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to court. We collectively argued that DEP's Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) were neither legally nor scientifically adequate to restore the health of Florida's springs, as mandated by the Springs & Aquifer Protection Act.

In a significant victory, the 1st District Court of Appeal (DCA) ruled in favor of FSC in 2023, ordering DEP to correct their flawed plans.

“Going to court is always our last resort. Unfortunately, that’s where Florida’s springs are after years of neglect and ineptitude by DEP. Our only choices are to keep fighting or accept that Florida’s springs will never be healthier than they are today. For Florida Springs Council members, that is no choice at all,”- FSC Executive Director Ryan Smart.

BMAPs - What are they?

The Springs & Aquifer Protection Act, passed in 2016, requires DEP to develop Basin Management Action Plans, or BMAPs, for Florida's nitrate-impaired springs. The plans are required to provide a blueprint for reducing pollution and restoring the springs to heatlh within a 20 year timeframe. The required plans were introduced by DEP in 2018, and fell drastically short.

  • When a body of water is impaired by pollution, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection must create a plan to address the pollution. These plans are called "Basin Management Action Plans," or BMAPs.

  • Thirty springs were identified by the 2016 Springs and Aquifer Protection Act as "Outstanding Florida Springs" (OFS.) If any of those thirty springs are impaired by pollution, they must by law have a BMAP that will achieve water quality goals within 20 years.

  • Twenty-four of the 30 Outstanding Florida Springs identified by the 2016 Springs and Aquifer Protection Act are considered impaired by nitrogen pollution.

  • There are 13 BMAPs to address pollution in the 24 impaired Outstanding Florida Springs.

The Lawsuit

When the BMAPs were published by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in 2018, we saw several reasons the plans were not going to work:

  • Insufficient Nitrogen Reduction: The plans addressed only a small fraction of the required nitrogen reduction, often less than a quarter.

  • Population Growth Ignored in a rapidly growing state: The plans were based on pollution levels from 2017, without accounting for future increases due to population growth.

  • Agricultural Pollution Overlooked: Agriculture, the largest source of nutrient pollution, was not adequately addressed.

Knowing the BMAPs were not going to work, FSC and partners, including Save the Manatee Club, Sierra Club, Ichetucknee Alliance, Our Santa Fe River, and Silver Springs Alliance, challenged DEP in court.

In Court For Clean Springs

The legal proceedings spanned two weeks in November 2019. Two years later (yes, that was incredibly out of the ordinary, most cases take a matter of months) the court initially ruled against FSC, stating that the law states that DEP only needed to provide plans, not that they had to be effective.

FSC appealed the decision, and in June 2022, the 1st District Court of Appeal heard our arguments. By February 2023, the court ruled in FSC's favor, mandating DEP to devise effective BMAPs.

Rather than fix the faulty BMAPs, DEP simply withdrew the BMAPs in place for the affected springs.

The Ongoing Fight

Despite the court's ruling, DEP has yet to implement effective BMAPs, instead waiting until new BMAPs are due in July of 2025, leaving Florida's springs vulnerable. DEP knowingly failed to follow proper legal procedures, refusing to comply with the court's order. DEP is determined to protect polluters, and FSC and our partner organizations who care about Florida's waterways are equally determined hold them accountable and force them to uphold the laws in place to protect our springs.

What’s Next?

The battle for clean springs in Florida is ongoing. FSC and its allies remain committed to ensuring DEP complies with the court's order, ensuring the future health of Florida’s springs. BMAPs are currently being re-written and FSC and partner organizations are involved in the process, to ensure legal compliance and meaningful action for Florida's springs.


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