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Press Release: Springs Groups Head Back to Court Over Failed Restoration Plans


July 26, 2023

Contacts: Ryan Smart,, 561-358-7191

John Thomas,, 727-692-4384

Michael McGrath,, 386-341-4708


Springs Groups Head Back to Court

Over Failed Restoration Plans

TALLAHASSEE, Florida - On July 21, 2023, attorney John Thomas filed administrative petitions challenging the Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) for twelve Outstanding Florida Springs in the Santa Fe, Suwannee, Silver and Rainbow River basins on behalf of members of the Florida Springs Council. This is springs advocates’ second effort to force the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to follow the law in adopting water quality restoration plans for Outstanding Florida Springs, following a victory in the 1st District Court of Appeals earlier this year.

Sierra Club Florida Lead Organizer Michael McGrath states, "It’s maddening to watch Governor DeSantis’ FDEP continue to waste our taxpayer dollars and delay justice in the courts when stopping pollution at its source should be among their highest priorities. Sierra Club Florida will continue to marshal our resources and challenge these toothless regulations both in the courtroom and in the streets until we get BMAPs that actually work.”

The petitioners are Sierra Club Florida & Tom Greenhalgh (Suwannee BMAP), Our Santa Fe River & Ichetucknee Alliance (Santa Fe BMAP), and Save the Manatee Club & Rainbow River Conservation (Silver/Rainbow BMAP).

“Going to court is always our last resort. Unfortunately, that’s where Florida’s springs are at 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,” says FSC Executive Director Ryan Smart.

In 2018, DEP proposed new BMAPs for 24 Outstanding Florida Springs impaired by excessive nitrogen pollution. Each Outstanding Florida Springs BMAP must meet the requirements of 373.807 & 403.067, Florida Statutes, including achieving water quality goals within twenty years. The BMAPs were so flawed, however, that they offered no credible hope of achieving water quality goals and could leave springs worse off in twenty years than when they were adopted.

According to Ichetucknee Alliance President John Jopling, “The plan was a fig leaf, not a serious effort to plan for the protection of our springs. It set inadequate goals for pollution reduction, then proposed remedies which were facially insufficient to meet even those low-bar goals. And all of this without even attempting to account for the effects of future growth.”

“The Silver River system is vital habitat for manatees,” says Kim Dinkins with Save the Manatee Club. “In recent years, we have seen what can happen under lax BMAP implementation in the Indian River Lagoon. Manatees simply cannot afford another ecosystem collapse. FDEP must fulfill its duties under the law to protect Silver Springs, not just for manatees, but for all creatures—from insects to humans—that call Florida home.”

Because DEP failed to follow the law, in 2019 Florida Springs Council members - including those listed above - challenged five of the Outstanding Florida Springs BMAPs. This March, after a costly four-year legal battle, springs advocates prevailed in the 1st District Court of Appeals which invalidated the BMAPs for not including detailed allocations of the pollutant load. Allocations are how much each type of polluter must reduce their pollution in order to achieve overall water quality goals. They should be the basis for each BMAP’s projects, practices and policies to improve water quality.

Shortly after, petitioners emailed Secretary Shawn Hamilton, Chief Science Officer Mark Rains, Deputy Secretary Adam Blalock and others within DEP, requesting a meeting in light of the 1st DCA ruling. No one at DEP responded prior to the final order being released, and DEP held no public meetings or workshops that the petitioners could attend.

DEP released its final order on remand to address the 1st DCA ruling on June 12, 2023, and a subsequent corrected final order on June 30. Instead of drafting new BMAPs based on the detailed allocations, DEP proposed adopting allocations as an appendix to each BMAP. The proposed allocations were inaccurate, inconsistent with the nitrogen reduction targets in the existing BMAPs, and did nothing to improve the plans’ ability to achieve water quality goals.

“The Rainbow needs help,” says Rainbow River Conservation Board Member Judy Lathrop. “Excess nitrogen not only causes wildlife to suffer and die, but raises concerns about the health of the underlying aquifer that supplies our drinking water. Florida law requires that DEP correct this situation, but it has failed to do so. We must challenge this ineffective order to save the health and vitality of the Rainbow.”

Today, Outstanding Florida Springs BMAPs are no closer to meeting the requirements of law, and are less consistent and understandable, than when they were adopted four years ago. As a result, Florida’s springs are more polluted and we have lost valuable time. This was not inevitable. The Florida Springs Council created a Better BMAP for the Santa Fe River to prove it was possible to write a BMAP that complies with law and achieves water quality goals.

Specific deficiencies with each BMAP, and the relief sought by petitioners, can be found in the attached Suwannee, Santa Fe and Rainbow/Silver petitions filed on July 21, 2023.


Download the Santa Fe River BMAP petition filed by Our Santa Fe River and Ichetucknee Alliance

Our Santa Fe River, Inc. and Ichetucknee Alliance, Inc. vs
. DEP - Petition for Hearing - O

Download the Suwannee River BMAP petition filed by Sierra Club Florida and Tom Greenhalgh

Sierra Club and Thomas Greenhalgh vs. DEP - Petition for Hearing - OGC 17-1165
Download PDF • 1.41MB

Download the Rainbow and Silver Rivers BMAP petition filed by Save the Manatee Club and Rainbow River Conservation

Save the Manatee Club, Inc. and Rainbow River Conservation, Inc. vs
. DEP - Petition for He
Download DEP - PETITION FOR HE • 1.89MB

Download the PDF press release:

FSC 2023 BMAP challenge Press Release
Download PDF • 127KB

Images below are available for press use.

Algae plagues Fanning Springs, one of the impaired Outstanding Florida Springs affected by the Suwannee River BMAP being challenged by Sierra Club Florida and Tom Greenhalgh with assistance from Florida Springs Council. 2023. Photo by John Moran.

Dr. Burt Eno of Rainbow River conservation on the stand at the original BMAP hearing in 2019. Photo by John Moran.

Algae plagues Manatee Springs, one of the impaired Outstanding Florida Springs affected by the Suwannee River BMAP being challenged by Sierra Club Florida and Tom Greenhalgh with assistance from Florida Springs Council. 2023. Photo by Bob Wilinski.


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