En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists: State’s plan to save springs will fail

Ini­tia­tive for Blue, Wekiwa, Ichetuck­nee crit­i­cized for poor de­sign and fund­ing

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Kevin Spear

Florida’s chief strategy for res­cu­ing beloved but ail­ing springs will fail be­cause it is un­der­funded, poorly de­signed and pow­er­less, ac­cord­ing to a le­gal chal­lenge from a coali­tion of seven en­vi­ron­men­tal groups.

Par­tic­i­pants have filed a pe­ti­tion for a state ju­di­cial hear­ing, tar­get­ing a pend­ing springscle­anup ini­tia­tive of the Florida Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion. Such chal­lenges have been widely viewed as des­per­ate and costly long shots un­der rules stacked in the state’s fa­vor.

The seven groups in­clude Save the Man­a­tee Club on be­half of Blue Spring in Vo­lu­sia County; Sierra Club for an ar­ray of springs along the Suwan­nee River; the Ichetuck­nee Al­liance on be­half of Ichetuck­nee Springs near Gainesville; and Friends of the Wekiva River, a long­stand­ing cham­pion of Or­ange County’s Wekiwa Springs.

Cen­tral to the dis­pute is the state’s planned im­ple­men­ta­tion of a Basin Man­age­ment Ac­tion Plan, or BMAP, a pro­gram that aims to re­duce spring pol­lu­tion from sewage, runoff and fer­til­iz­ers.

Those pol­lu­tants have trig-

gered in­va­sions of un­wanted al­gae smoth­er­ing aquatic grasses, dis­plac­ing fish and wildlife, and leav­ing dull slimes on once-shim­mer­ing, sandy bot­toms.

“If we let these BMAPs go, it will be the demise of these fan­tas­tic springs,” said John Thomas, a vet­eran en­vi­ron­men­tal lawyer from the Tampa Bay area who will lead the le­gal chal­lenge. “We can’t take a pas­sive ap­proach. We have to be very ac­tive, and the BMAP, in a nut­shell, is an in­ven­tory and not a cor­rec­tive tool.”

Florida’s pol­lu­tion and al­gae strug­gles are wide­spread in fresh­wa­ter and ma­rine en­vi­ron­ments.

South of Or­lando, Florida’s At­lantic and Gulf coasts have been dec­i­mated by al­gae — toxic to peo­ple and deadly to ma­rine life — re­ferred to in­for­mally as green slime and red tide.

The In­dian River, a world-class es­tu­ary hug­ging the At­lantic from Cen­tral Florida to the Trea­sure Coast, has been con­vulsed by sev­eral types of al­gae in­va­sions.

In­land, start­ing in the Or­lando area and to the north, springs have taken a beat­ing from pol­lu­tion-fu­eled al­gae. There are ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 springs in Cen­tral and North Florida and very few are not pol­luted, ac­cord­ing to find­ings of the state and re­searchers.

BMAPs for ma­jor springs have been in the works since the Leg­is­la­ture’s pas­sage of the 2016 Springs and Aquifer Pro­tec­tion Act.

The Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion will not com­ment now about springs BMAPs and the coali­tion’s le­gal chal­lenge, known as a pe­ti­tion for an ad­min­is­tra­tive hear­ing.

The agency pro­vided com­ments from when springs BMAPs were as­sem­bled and pre­sented last year.

“These plans re­quire ac­tions to ad­dress ev­ery pol­lu­tion source through­out Florida’s spring­sheds, from waste­water to agri­cul­ture to sep­tic sys­tems,” the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion stated. “These ag­gres­sive plans are de­signed to achieve re­duc­tion goals in 15 years, ahead of the 20-year re­quire­ment of the law.”

The le­gal chal­lenge, filed un­der the um­brella group of the Florida Springs Coun­cil, ad­dresses five springs sys­tems: Wekiwa Springs and the Wekiva River; Blue Spring; springs feed­ing the Santa Fe River; springs of the Suwan­nee River; and Sil­ver and Rain­bow springs.

Thomas noted that the Wekiwa and Blue are plagued mostly by pol­lu­tion from ur­ban and sub­ur­ban devel­op­ment, in­clud­ing from res­i­den­tial sep­tic-tank sys­tems. The oth­ers are con­tend­ing with pol­lu­tion from agri­cul­tural sources, he said.

The BMAPs ad­dress both classes of pol­lu­tion but with­out pur­su­ing any dif­fi­cult ac­tions, Thomas said.

“Although they list these projects and the projects add up to a good amount of money, those are just good projects that are way over­due,” Thomas said. “The fact that they are over­due is part of the rea­son why the springs are dy­ing.”

OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL FILE

Pol­lu­tion-fed al­gae grows out of con­trol in the Wekiva River just down­stream from the river boil at Wekiwa Springs.

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