Key concerns were raised at the first Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) meeting on Wednesday afternoon. This is the first meeting in the process that aims to address the serious problem of nitrate pollution at Silver Springs and in the Silver River. Those concerns included: how long will the process take, who pays, and how does it get enforced?
The meeting was well attended, considering that it was at 1:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. Many in the audience were environmental activists from throughout the region while most of the remainder were involved with water in one way or another occupationally (agriculture, bioscience, public utility, government agency, for example). It was held at the Marion County Growth Services office at the main library complex. Marion County is regarded as a contractor with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which made most presentations on Wednesday.
There are BMAPs for a number of water basins throughout Florida, but the process and practice is a relatively new one that is time-consuming. It was acknowledged that the BMAPs for Rainbow Springs, Orange Creek, and the Santa Fe River will likely overlap with areas expected to be addressed by the Silver Springs BMAP because the basin areas are so large. You can get an understanding of the scope by referring to the map picin the slide show which shows the range of different “capture areas” for the Silver Springs basin over different time frames.
The BMAP is a strategic design to significantly reduce nitrate pollution (expressed as TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads) in the targeted area. Initial steps in dealing with nitrate pollution occurred last year when DEP drafted TMDL recommendations in July and DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard signed off on them in December. The rule is expected to be adopted in February.
Nitrate levels at Silver Springs easily exceeded 1.0 milligrams per liter (mg/L) average over a 10 year testing period (2001-2011), up to a peak level of 1.69 mg/L which became the baseline for top measurement. The DEP recommended a target of .35 mg/L average TMDL, a major reduction in nitrate concentrations. Yet environmentalists are frustrated since the natural level is .05 mg/L, far lower than the target. See the chart in the slide show for the measurements.
Nitrates contribute to high levels of algae growth which can suffocate a water body by removing its oxygen, negatively affect water flows, negatively impact fish and wildlife, and even be toxic to humans while producing green slime on surfaces and various submerged plants. Silver Springs and sections of the Silver River have been identified as “impaired water bodies,” a necessary preliminary step in forming a BMAP strategy.
The audience appreciated the scope of the task and was glad for a comprehensive plan combating nitrate pollution. However, they had significant misgivings.
Guy Marwick, longtime local environmentalist who was champion of the Silver River State Park, commented regarding the 5 to 10 year compliance schedule, saying Silver Springs doesn’t have 5 or 10 years to have its threats addressed. It will be gone by then. Mary Paulic, the DEP Basin Coordinator in charge of completing the Silver Springs BMAP admitted that their planning allows for 5 year blocks in order to implement changes and then measure and assess whatever progress is being made in prepping the next 5 year plan. She reminded the audience that results take time to work through, but she did say that she expected significant measurable improvement in TMDLs within the first 5 year plan.
Another concern was raised by Nate Gilman, a retired educator and community activist. He asked how the plan would be funded, recognizing the significant scope of work. Paulic didn’t mention much coming from FL DEP, pointing instead to local governments and public utilities who would be required to fulfill responsibilities under a BMAP. There were some state and federal grants, and other possible sources, like FL Department of Agriculture providing certain assistance for farm operations needing to take remedial steps. In general, it was sketchy and relied heavily on local government and business to shoulder costs.
Gilman’s concerns were timely since this headline appeared in Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times: Florida water management districts seek $122 million for springs restoration. Youch! The article starts:
Florida’s springs are in trouble. Most have lost flow. Some have reversed themselves. Many of them are suffering from rampant pollution that has spurred the growth of toxic algae. There are signs that saltwater is intruding.
What will it take to fix all this? According to state water officials, $122.4 million — just to start. That’s 10 times what the state spent on springs last year, and four times what the state budgeted for Everglades restoration.
A key part: $10 million to be spent replacing septic tanks and small sewage plants near some of the state’s key springs in hopes of reducing their leaking of pollution into the aquifer.
Looming over the whole proceeding was the specter of the Adena Springs Ranch. With each cow (of an expected 15,000 total) producing 100 lbs. of manure daily, or 750 tons daily for the ranch, the proposed operation of billionaire Frank Stronach threatens the aquifer with a huge water withdrawal permit requested as well as calamitous nitrate pollution from the manure. For an update on Adena Springs, click here for the recent article.
The next BMAP session will likely be in early March where defining the BMAP geographic boundary and identifying the stakeholders within that area who need to be involved in the process will be the objectives.
While it seemed like a positive start, worries about delayed implementation and inadequate funding support exceed the BMAP expectations and need organized advocacy from the community.