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.
Sierra Club Florida & Tom Greenhalgh
Fanning, Manatee, Falmouth, Lafayette Blue, Peacock, Troy and Madison Blue.
Sante Fe BMAP
Our Santa Fe River & Ichetucknee Alliance
Devil's Ear Spring, Hornsby Spring and the Ichetucknee Spring Group.
Silver / Rainbow BMAP
Save the Manatee Club & Rainbow River Conservation
Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs
Our ‘BMAP case' - You may be asking yourself, “Didn’t they already win this case?” And, you’re right. This is our 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. DEP has consistently failed to create meaningful springs restoration plans, and we’re holding them accountable.
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 first BMAP case…
After a costly four-year long battle, springs groups prevailed at the 1st District Court of Appeals earlier this year.
On Wednesday, February 15, 2023, the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that FDEP violated Florida law by not allocating the pollutant load to categories of non-point sources when drafting Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) for 13 impaired Outstanding Florida Springs (OFS). FDEP was supposed to create new BMAPs with detailed allocations of the pollutant load as required. 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.
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 new BMAPs were less consistent and understandable than when they were adopted four years ago.
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.”
So, we are going back to court.
“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.
Dive Deeper into the Background
In 2016, Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 552, creating the Florida Springs & Aquifer Protection Act. The law directed DEP to assess the health of 30 Outstanding Florida Springs and create water quality restoration plans, known as BMAPs, for any springs that were impaired. Each Outstanding Florida Springs BMAP must meet the requirements of 373.807 & 403.067 Florida Statutes, including achieving water quality goals within 20 years.
DEP determined that 24 Outstanding Florida Springs (80%) were impaired by excessive nitrogen pollution, leading to algae growth and the loss of aquatic vegetation, biodiversity, and personal enjoyment. To achieve water quality goals, pollution would need to be cut by more than 50% in many springsheds. The BMAPs adopted by DEP for these springs did not reflect the seriousness of the problem or the minimum requirements of state law. They were so flawed and deficient 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.
Because DEP failed to follow the law, Florida Springs Council members - including those listed above - challenged five of the Outstanding Florida Springs BMAPS.
“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.”
Specific deficiencies with each BMAP, and the relief sought by petitioners, can be found in the Santa Fe, Rainbow/Silver and Suwannee petitions filed on July 21, 2023.