Wakulla Springs and other protection plans head toward turbulent waters
Florida springs activists will decide this week whether to move forward with a legal challenge to the Department of Environmental Protection plans to restore water quality in 24 springs.
A coalition of groups met in a conference call Friday organized by the Florida Springs Institute. Participants agreed to two more meetings and to “cloak them in silence” until they decide whether to contest the Basin Management Action Plans mandated by the 2016 Legislature.
They have a 21-day window to file for an administrative hearing.
“It’ll be quick. We have just two weeks left,” said Sean McGlynn, chair of the Wakulla Springs Alliance.
Members of his board question whether the group has the money for a court challenge and if it is the best use of its time – two years in a fight with DEP rather than in a restoration effort.
The WSA held a special meeting last week and voted to delay any actions on Wakulla Springs' BMAP until gathering more input. The BMAP is on the group's agenda for its meeting Friday.
“We will talk with other springs groups and reassess and then consider what to do on the 13th,” said McGlynn. “If there is a group of springs that will join us and help us with the cause that would reduce the cost and make it manageable.”
Advocates expressed hope two years ago when lawmakers agreed to spend money to improve water quality in the network of first magnitude springs that dot north and central Florida. Nitrates from fertilizers used in the cities and on farms along with wastewater from septic tanks flow into the springs where they feed algae. Algae blooms trigger a series of events that affect water quality and chase life out of the spring.
DEP said the BMAP plans released June 29 provide “tools for remediation” for the septic tanks and encourages cities and farms to employ best practices in the use of fertilizers. Members of the Florida Springs Council, a coalition of 45 groups, found it unrealistic to expect those tools alone will get the job done.
WSA responded to early drafts of the Wakulla Springs plan with 20 recommendations. DEP included five of them – among them a biological index, a survey of life in the water as well as the level of nitrates.
“We feel a little bit better about the BMAP, but we still have concerns,” said McGlynn. “Right now, they have all the money in septic tanks and they don’t include the lakes and streams in the basin.”
DEP said 6.2 million pound of nitrates flows into Wakulla Springs every year. The 12,000 septic tanks in the basin contribute about 1.2 million pounds of the total. While the advocates cheer the effort to require advance septic systems and centralized sewer connections, they question whether those tools are enough.
Another 1.7 million pounds from fertilizers used on farms and in the cities also are carried in the stormwater runoff that flows into the spring basin.
WSA studies established links between Leon County lakes and Wakulla Springs. McGlynn thinks DEP will eventually have to address water quality in Tallahassee lakes Jackson and Munson in the Wakulla restoration effort.
Reporter James Call can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.