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Springs and Aquifer Protection Act: Implementation (or lack thereof) After Eight Years


On January 21, 2016, SB 552, which included the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act (FSAPA), was signed into law by Governor Scott. The bill passed 37-0 in the Senate and 110-2 in the House on the second day of the 2016 Legislative Session. The bill had been debated for more than two years, during which time it was watered down and weakened to gain the support of Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Farm Bureau.


It was opposed by the Florida Springs Council and other conservation groups over concerns with loopholes in the bill that would undermine implementation and delay progress in restoring Florida’s springs and rivers.


The Springs and Aquifer Protection Act


Although it was a weaker version of the original bill, there were still some measures left in SB 552 that could help protect and restore our springs if implemented by DEP and the water management districts.


Water Quality

373.807 - OFS BMAPs

373.811 - Prohibited Activities

Water Flow/Use

373.805 - OFS Minimum Flows and Levels

373.219(3) - OFS Consumptive Use Permits


  • established 30 Outstanding Florida Springs (OFS),

  • requires DEP to adopt water quality restoration plans, or Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs), for any OFS impaired by nitrogen pollution, 

  • requires delineation of “Priority Focus Areas” for each OFS,

  • requires the DEP to adopt recovery and prevention strategies to ensure that water levels and flows do not fall below established Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs),  

  • required the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to “adopt uniform rules for issuing permits which prevent groundwater withdrawals that are harmful” to OFS and adopt a uniform definition of the term “harmful to the water resources."


Florida’s state agencies have spent the last eight years undermining and ignoring the Springs and Aquifer Protection Act at the expense of improving water quality in Florida’s springs. According to DEP’s Statewide Annual Report, water quality in springs is getting worse, and DEP’s water quality restoration plans are not working. The report shows 9/13 of DEP’s BMAPs are “not on track” to achieve the Department’s five-year nutrient removal targets. 


 

Santa Fe Springs: A Case Study of the State’s Failure to Uphold SB 552


TLDR: The Department of Environmental Protection has not fulfilled any of the requirements of the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act for the Santa Fe Springs, including adopting a valid BMAP, establishing MFLs and recovering strategies and limiting consumptive use permitting.


In 2016, SB 552 was referred to as a “Legacy Bill.” For the springs of the Santa Fe River, and many other springs and springfed rivers across Florida,that legacy is an abject failure.  Today, neither the leaders of the House Senate, Governor DeSantis, nor DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton have any interest in implementing or enforcing SB 552, a law they did not develop and clearly do not support.


The responsibility to enforce laws that protect Florida’s springs now falls solely on non-profit groups, individuals, and local governments while the current Legislature prioritizes bills that increase state preemption, limit local government environmental protections and strip non-profits and citizens’ access to the courts. 


Dive Deeper


Santa Fe BMAP 


373.807 requires DEP to create a Santa Fe River BMAP to include the following by 2018:


Requirement

Implementation (What DEP has done)

Identification of each point source or category of non-point sources and an estimated allocation of the pollutant load for each point source or category of non-point sources.

DEP identified each point source or category of non-point sources, but failed to provide an estimated allocation of the pollution load. The Santa Fe BMAP was invalidated by the 1st District Court of Appeals: 


“Because there were no ‘specific categories of nonpoint sources’ included in the TMDL rules… required the Department to include a ‘detailed allocation to specific point sources and specific categories of nonpoint sources’ in the BMAP for each Outstanding Florida Springs at issue.”

An implementation plan designed with a target to achieve the nutrient total maximum daily load no more than 20 years after the adoption of a basin management action plan.

The Santa Fe BMAP only contained enough “credits” from projects and practices to achieve 26% of the nitrate reduction DEP found necessary to achieve the TMDL.


DEP witnesses acknowledged the BMAPs fall short:


“At this point we do not have enough documented reductions to achieve that TMDL.”


“We have targets that we want… Right now, we do not have adequate projects to meet those goals.” 

A schedule establishing 5-year, 10-year, and 15-year targets for achieving the nutrient total maximum daily load.

For each OFS DEP used identical percentages as targets, without any consideration for whether or not those targets could be achieved.

A priority list of projects and programs to implement the nutrient TMDL which includes basic information like cost and water quality benefit. 

The Santa Fe BMAP does contain a list of projects, however they are insufficient to implement the TMDL. Additionally, many of the projects are missing required information, contain incorrect nutrient reduction estimates, or were completed prior to the TMDLs.


Santa Fe Prohibited Activities 


373.811 prohibits the following within a Priority Focus Area in effect for an OFS:


  • New WWTF that do not meet AWT standards

  • New conventional OSTDS on lots less than one acre

  • New facilities for the disposal of hazardous waste.

  • Land application of class A or B biosolids without DEP approval

  • New agricultural operations that do not implement BMPs or monitoring


For most of the past five years, none of the prohibitions have been in effect for the Santa Fe because DEP has never proposed and adopted a valid Basin Management Action Plan that meets the requirements of the FSAPA.


Santa Fe Minimum Flows and Levels 


373.805 requires SRWMD & DEP to revise the 2015 Santa Fe MFL & Recovery Plan (no deadline) to include:


  • A priority list of projects and programs to implement the Recovery Plan, which includes basic information like cost and benefit.

  • An implementation plan designed with a target to achieve the MFL no  more than 20 years after adoption.

  • A schedule establishing 5-year, 10-year, and 15-year targets for achieving the MFL.


The following charts are the Suwannee River Water Management Districts priority lists from 2018 and 2022, listing the priority MFLs that need to be adopted. In 2018, the SRWMD acknowledged the need to adopt a MFL for the Santa Fe River. However, the Santa Fe River remains at the top of the list in 2022, and still in 2024, because the MFL recovery plan has yet to be adopted. 

















Santa Fe Consumptive Use Permitting 


Requirement: For Outstanding Florida Springs, the department shall adopt uniform rules for issuing permits which prevent groundwater withdrawals that are harmful to the water resources and adopt by rule a uniform definition of the term “harmful to the water resources” (Springs Harm Rule). 


Implementation:


After more than seven years, DEP has failed to proposed new rules for adoption which prevent harmful groundwater withdrawals or define “harmful to the water resources.” 


  • DEP delayed rule-making for six years claiming it was gathering public input, without holding a single public meeting. 


  • In 2022, after six years of inaction, DEP proposed nearly identical draft permitting rules and harm definition to those in effect since 2014, two years before SB 552 became law. DEP withdrew the rule under intense opposition.


  • In July 2023, DEP again proposed nearly identical draft permitting rules to those in effect since 2014, along with a harm definition copied from the Central Florida Water Initiative. No indication has been made whether DEP will attempt to adopt the rules.


  • In January 2024, DEP gave a presentation about the status of rule-making to the House Water Quality, Supply, and Treatment Subcommittee. DEP did not mention the Springs Harm Rule in the presentation. When asked by Representative Cross about the status of this rule, the DEP representative said “I think we’ll have to get back to you on that one.” 

 

Learn more about FSC's case against DEP's Basin Management Action Plans here: https://www.floridaspringscouncil.org/bmaplegalchallenge


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