The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship and is tasked to protect the state’s air, water and land. Reading from FDEP’s website, its vision is “… to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources, and enhance its ecosystems.” (www.floridadep.gov)
Headquartered in Tallahassee, but with staff state-wide, FDEP has approximately 3,000 employees and an annual budget of about $1.5 billion. Composed of 13 divisions, including the Division of Parks and Recreation, FDEP oversees all aspects of Florida’s 175 state parks. Those parks, preserves, and recreational areas encompass more than 800,000 acres and have won top honors nationwide four of the past 20 years. Annual visitation to Florida’s state parks exceeds 30 million visitors.
Twenty-seven of Florida’s award-winning state parks encompass springs, including most of the largest artesian springs in Florida and the United States. Many of these springs’ parks were Florida’s earliest tourist attractions – Silver, Wakulla, Rainbow, Weeki Wachee, Homosassa, Volusia Blue, and more than a dozen other popular natural destinations. There is no doubt that FDEP managers and staff are fully cognizant of the wealth of natural resources that are under their supervision and care.
I recently read a copy of FDEP’s glossy, two-sided springs’ brochure titled: “Springs – Purely and Uniquely Florida”. This brochure provides the following helpful information for spring’s visitors: “What Makes Florida’s Springs Unique?” with details on: “What is a spring?”, “Did you know your neighborhood could affect a spring?”, and “Why is it important to protect springs?”.
The last page of this brochure caught my attention with “Together we can protect and restore Florida’s springs” and “You can help – individual actions make a difference”. The current springs’ problems summarized in the brochure could not be more clearly stated:
- “Over time, the water quality and flow of Florida’s springs have been impacted by both human and natural factors.
- Nutrient pollution from sources such as fertilizer, human and animal waste can be greatly reduced with better practices and management of wastewater.
- Water conservation efforts can restore spring flows to levels that support healthy ecosystems.”
And the final honest statement in this pamphlet is: “Florida’s laws require springs protection.”
The rest of the text is disappointing. After repeating the truth that Florida’s springs, even in state parks, no longer support healthy ecosystems and are impacted by human activities, including excessive groundwater diversions and nutrient loads, the brochure includes blatant untruths, including: “FDEP is restoring springs by setting limits on nutrient pollution” and “Florida’s water management districts protect springs by regulating water use”. These statements beg the question that the public has been asking for decades: if FDEP and the water management districts are protecting Florida’s springs, why are nearly all our springs unhealthy and continuing to decline?
As I have stated in previous op-eds and a dozen springs restoration plans, the answer to this question is simple – because Florida’s springs preservation efforts are not sufficient to achieve the goal of springs restoration and protection. FDEP’s springs Basin Management Action Plans intended to reduce nutrient pollution are ineffective. And, under FDEP’s supervision, the water management district governing boards tasked with protection of springs and environmental flows, have not reduced groundwater extractions.
I would like to suggest two New Year’s resolutions for the public servants at FDEP who are entrusted with “…safeguarding Florida’s natural resources and enhancing its ecosystems”:
- Resolution No. 1: FDEP will restore spring flows to levels that protect their ecological health by placing a protective cap on groundwater pumping, require metering of all groundwater uses, and charging an Aquifer Protection Fee for all groundwater withdrawals in Florida.
- Resolution No. 2: FDEP will restore groundwater and springs water quality by placing a cap on all nitrogen fertilizer use in Florida, require reporting of all fertilize sales, and charging an Aquifer Protection Fee for all fertilizer used in the state.
If strictly followed, these two New Year resolutions will restore much of the original beauty and ecological functionality of Florida’s priceless spring natural resources. Fulfilling these promises will allow Florida’s springs state parks to truly shine again.
Bob Knight is Executive Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute located in High Springs – “Gateway to the Springs”.