“Funding for Florida Springs!” It’s a nice headline, but springs advocates should look carefully at the reality behind the dollars.
We see a lot of press conferences celebrating environmental funding, but we haven't seen as many of those press conferences celebrating results. So FSC is following the money. Is it being spent effectively? Are dollars spent a good indication of environmental excellence? How much will it help to restore the springs? Is the state doing the best we can do with the limited funds given? We've analyzed the springs restoration projects proposed to receive funding for the 2023-24 fiscal year, and here are some of our findings.
First, some things to know about Annual Springs Funding
1. The 2016 Springs and Aquifer Protection act REQUIRES the Florida Legislature to appropriate funding each year for springs restoration.
2. The MINIMUM amount that can be legally assigned to springs each year is $50 Million.
3. Proposals for use of those funds are collected and reviewed by water management districts and then submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for approval.
The disparity in funding for water restoration projects between South Florida and Central and North Florida is not reflective of the relative needs of the two ecosystems.
2023-24 Springs Funding
DEP has announced the proposed springs projects for the 2023-2024 fiscal year. FSC staff analyzed the proposed projects. We found that the vast majority are ineffective, wasteful, and ignore the largest sources of springs pollution. Here's what we found.
FUNDING IS NOT BEING USED WHERE IT’S NEEDED MOST
According to the Basin Management Action Plans prepared by DEP, agriculture accounts for approximately 70% of local addressable nitrogen pollution to Outstanding Florida Springs. Human waste (septic tanks + wastewater treatment plants) accounts for only 18%.
What SHOULD happen: Ideally, the ratio of funding for springs projects should reflect the ratio of pollution sources, with the most funding going towards the biggest problems. Agriculture is 70% of the pollution source? Then roughly 70% of the funding should be directed to land conservation and to cost-share programs to help ag producers adopt nitrogen- and water-saving practices.
What IS happening: To the detriment of our springs, less than 6% of the requested state funding addresses agricultural pollution. The lion’s share of the requested funding, 80%, is going to septic tank and wastewater treatment projects.
A CASE STUDY
LET'S TAKE A LOOK AT FUNDING PROPOSED FOR THE SUWANNEE BASIN SPRINGS
The Suwannee River basin includes such iconic (and heavily polluted) springs as Manatee Springs, Fanning Springs, and Troy Springs. Agriculture is responsible for 92% of addressable nitrogen pollution in the Suwannee Basin and must be reduced by more than 5.8 million pounds. Wastewater and Septic are responsible for 4% of the basin's pollution and must be reduced by 276,000 pounds.
So where would YOU spend most of the funding to clean up the springs of the Suwannee Basin?
Only 2.8% of requested funding in the Suwannee Basin is for projects that address agricultural pollution.
A whopping 97.2% is for wastewater infrastructure projects. We could clean up every last bit of wastewater and septic pollution in the Suwannee Basin and the Suwannee area springs would still be heavily polluted.
So why is 97% of the funding being proposed for the area being used for wastewater and septic projects?
The role of the Florida Springs Council is to analyze this state spending and find out how the funding process became so broken, and what we must do to fix it.
FUNDING IS NOT BEING USED ON THE MOST COST EFFECTIVE PROJECTS Projects that address agricultural pollution are not only more needed, they are more cost-effective, removing far more nitrogen pollution from springs per dollar than the septic and wastewater projects currently making up the lion’s share of funded projects.
Wastewater and septic projects proposed for FY 23-24 are estimated to remove 102,534 lbs of Nitrogen per year from our springs for a total cost of $248,713,447. That means those projects only remove one pound of nitrogen per year for every $2,426 spent. By contrast, the proposed agricultural best management practices and land conservation projects are estimated to remove one pound of nitrogen for every $98 spent, making them 25 times more cost-effective at reducing pollution than septic and wastewater projects.
HOW SHOULD SPRINGS FUNDING BE SPENT? Overall, the state continues to send the majority of springs funds to wastewater infrastructure projects rather than to more effective agricultural and land conservation projects. However, there are several projects included which FSC strongly supports and hopes to see funded by DEP this year:
Poe Springs Addition. Alachua County is proposing to add 250 acres adjacent to Poe Springs along the Santa Fe River. The project would protect the property from development and convert an existing slash pine forestry operation to a long-leaf pine recreational area.
Five land conservation projects proposed by Alachua Conservation Trust would protect over 2,000 acres in the Santa Fe and Suwannee River Basins. These projects include conservation easements to protect land from future development, natural systems restoration, and enrollment in agricultural best management practices.
Agricultural best management practices project proposed by the Northwest Florida Water Management District would reduce agricultural pollution to Jackson Blue Springs and Chipola River. The only large scale BMP project proposed for funding, it is also by far the most effective project, estimated to remove at least one pound of nitrogen per year for every $36 spent.
FINAL TAKEAWAYS ON SPRINGS FUNDING FOR 2023 Our biggest takeaway: The state of Florida should be putting more money into land conservation and agricultural projects and less into infrastructure, particularly low-efficiency, low-impact, septic projects, especially in spring basins affected almost entirely by agriculture.
Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature are determined to spend our way out of Florida’s water crisis, prioritizing expensive taxpayer funded infrastructure projects over regulations and rules that would stop pollution at the source, before costly fixes are necessary. At FSC we have always been critical of this approach. But if it is to succeed, we must have enough funding and the funding must be spent wisely. Neither is the case for Florida’s springs. The Florida Springs Council is reviewing and analyzing all springs restoration projects funded through the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, from the initial year of funding to present day, to shine more light on the effectiveness of the Springs Funding process.
We will release the full comprehensive report, with findings and proposed improvements, later this year. Read the report we presented on last year's final springs funding here, at https://www.floridaspringscouncil.org/funding