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News: Fla. Court Tells Agency to Reconsider Plans for Springs

Fla. Court Tells Agency To Reconsider Plans For Springs

By Tom Lotshaw · February 16, 2023, 11:59 PM EST -- A Florida state appeals court on Wednesday sided with several environmental groups challenging the adequacy of basin management action plans that state regulators developed to reduce the nitrogen pollution impairing designated springs in the state known as Outstanding Florida Springs.

A three-judge panel of the Florida First District Court of Appeal ruled that four challenged plans prepared by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection identified nitrogen reductions for the basins they apply to, but did not properly include detailed allocations of load reductions for specific non-point source categories needed to meet water quality goals under a total maximum daily load, or TMDL, program.

According to the panel, the TMDL rules for the springs in question allocated nitrogen reductions to four broad categories — wastewater point sources, municipal storm sewer discharge point sources, non-point sources and a "margin of safety." Because those rules included only an "initial allocation," that required the department to include a "detailed allocation to specific point sources and specific categories of non-point sources" in the basin management action plans.

The basin management action plans, or BMAPs, were previously upheld by an administrative law judge in a ruling challenged by the Sierra Club, Save the Manatee Club and other conservation groups. They will now go back to the department for reconsideration, according to the panel's opinion.

John Ross Thomas, an attorney representing the conservation groups, said the ruling requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to identify how much nitrogen pollution will have to be reduced among various non-point source categories, including things such as farm and turf fertilizer, animal waste and septic systems.

"This is about accountability to the Legislature, the people of the state of Florida and those who are contributing the most [nitrogen pollution] and need to do more," Thomas told Law360 on Thursday.

Ryan Smart, director of the Florida Springs Council, whose member groups challenged the plans, said the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act requires the state to meet TMDL goals for designated springs by 2038, which will require the reduction of million of pounds of nitrogen pollution.

While the ruling applies to four challenged plans for Blue Spring, the Silver and Rainbow rivers, the Santa Fe River and Suwannee River, Smart said it sets a higher bar for other basin management action plans as they are developed or come up for five-year reviews going forward.

"The Legislature said the DEP was supposed to urgently act...

The case is Sierra Club et al. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection et al., case number 1D21-1667, in the First District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida.


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