Monday, April 28, 2014

Pass A Clean Springs Bill!

Sierra Club Florida Alert
Pass A Clean Springs Bill!
Springs bill up for vote on Senate floor this week

Please call your Senator and urge them to support SB 1576, and then call your Representative to urge them to take up the Springs bill (which will be amended onto a bill that is moving in the House) and pass it without any amendments.  This link will give you the contact information for your State Senator and State Representative.  Remember, phone calls are more effective than emails which can easily be deleted.

For a long time the environmental community has had to play nothing but defense.  This session was different because we had S 1576 Springs by Sen. Dean to work for.  We haven’t gotten everything we asked for in the bill, and we’ve had to compromise along the way, but the bill is a good product.  If we can get it passed without being weakened at the last minute, it will be an important step forward for Florida’s springs.

The situation:

Florida’s springs are in trouble.  Over pumping for power plants, lawn watering, agriculture, etc. combined with drought and a rapidly increasing population have caused springs to shrink or to disappear altogether.  And nutrient pollution from lawn fertilizer, agriculture fertilizer and manure, wastewater treatment facilities, septic tanks, and stormwater runoff has gotten into the aquifer that is the source of our springs and most of Florida’s drinking water supply.  It’s causing algae to foul our most important springs and damaging both our environment and economy.
Sen. Simmons (R – Seminole and Volusia) recognized these problems are unsustainable and resolved to do something about them.  With the support of Sens. Dean, Hays, Montford, and Simpson, he set out to craft a bill that provides funding, sets deadlines, and addresses the impacts of over consumption of water and nutrient pollution.  Since Sen. Dean is the Chairman of the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, he became the natural sponsor of the bill.

Sierra and many other environmental organizations have been involved with the bill since the fall of 2013.  We have offered arguments and amendments, consulted and critiqued, researched rules, and participated in enough stakeholder meetings to build a picket fence around the Capitol. SB 1576 passed all of its Senate Committees unanimously and is on the Special Order calendar for a vote on the Senate floor on Wednesday, April 30.

The hang up, of course, is that the House version of the bill HB 1313 - Springs by Rep. Brodeur (also of Seminole County) has not even been heard in its first committee.  We need to pass SB 1576 out of the Senate and have the House take it up and pass it with no bad amendments.

The Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, and the Florida Home Builders Association have been the lead opponents of the bill from its inception.  And they won’t give up easily.  They’ll use all their influence to get the House to gut the bill and then pretend to be environmental heroes.

But we’re not going to let that happen.  If the House takes up the bill it will be in front of every Representative and can’t be bottled up in committee.  We will know who voted the right way for a clean bill, and who voted the wrong way to gut it… and we’ll make sure everyone is reminded in November.

Please contact your Senator and your Representative and urge them to pass a clean Springs bill to clean up our Springs!

The bill has been changed since the last posting.  Below is an explanation of what the bill does.  The summary is followed by a detailed section by section analysis.  The full text of the bill can be seen here: Web Page | PDF


The bill provides that all of Florida’s “Outstanding Florida Springs”  (OFS) – all the first magnitude springs and six others - are to be assessed for adequate water flow and level and for pollution.    

Initial Actions
DEP is to delineate a “spring protection and management zone” (SPAMZ) for each OFS.  This is an area within a springshed where the Floridan Aquifer is vulnerable to sources of contamination or reduced levels.  These SPAMZ are used throughout the bill to determine where the provisions of the bill take effect.

DEP and WMDs are to set minimum flows and levels (MFLs) by 2015 – but extensions are possible all the way to 2022.

DEP is also to assess all OFS for nutrient impairment and to establish total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) and basin management action plans (BMAPs) for the SPAMZ of those OFS.

Minimum Flow and Minimum Level (MFL) Standards
The standard for determining the acceptable minimum water flow and the minimum water level is the flow and level at which it would be harmful to the water resources or the ecology of the area.  (The current law is the level at which it would be “significantly harmful”, so this is a more stringent standard.)

If a spring does not meet the MFL or it is projected that it will not meet its MFL within 20 years, the bill requires that a recovery or prevention strategy be established and that it be designed to achieve the MFL within 15 years, and also requires an annual progress report on achieving the MFL to the Governor and the Legislature.

Nutrient levels
The standard for determining the acceptable nutrient load for an OFS is 0.35 mg/L Total Nitrogen.  Many OFS exceed this level of nutrients by a wide margin.  Jackson Blue, for example, has almost ten times the allowed amount (3.42 mg/L), and the Rainbow Springs group in Marion County is at 2.17 mg/L.

When the nutrient level of an OFS is too high, DEP initiates a BMAP that determines how much pollution is coming from each source or category of nonpoint source and a plan is  developed to reduce the load from each by an amount that will get the nutrient level below the standard for spring vents with in 15 years.  Again, there is an annual progress report to the Governor and Legislature on whether the BMAP and the projects being used to implement it are working.

All communities within a SPAMZ of an impaired OFS must:

  • adopt regulations that meet or exceed the requirements of the Model Ordinance for Florida-Friendly Fertilizer Use on Urban Landscapes (local governments are not preempted from adopting more stringent regulations than the Model Ordinance.)
  • create and implement a OSTDS (septic tank) remediation plan (if septic tanks are identified as being a nutrient problem by DEP.) The remediation plan will be incorporated into the BMAP.  Extensions of 5 years are available (10 years for rural areas of critical economic concern)

Wastewater, stormwater facilities, and agricultural producers will all be assessed and included in the TMDL/BMAP and required to meet their TMDLs within the 15 year timeframe.   Extensions of 5 years are available (10 years for rural areas of critical economic concern)
Funding to help meet the costs of upgrades, BMPs, or projects to meet MFL or pollution standards will be available from appropriations made each year by the Legislature.  DEP will evaluate, rank, and select projects for funding on the basis of a “worst first” / “best bang for the buck” approach.   Property owners with septic tanks will not be charged for the costs of upgrades or connection costs to a sanitary sewer.

Section by Section analysis

DACS – Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
DEP – Department of Environmental Protection
DOH – Department of Health
GAA – General Appropriations Act (the Budget)
MFL -  Minimum Flow and Level
OFS – Outstanding Florida Spring
OSTDS – Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal System (septic tank / drainfield system)
SPAMZ – Spring Protection and Management Zone
WMD – Water Management District

Sections 1, 2, and 7
The WMDs are required to complete MFLs for all covered springs, AND the standard is changed from "significantly harmful" to "harmful".  Therefore, the MFLs should be set at a considerably higher level than is currently the case.

Similarly the requirement for recovery and protection strategies is tied to the "harm" standard.

The establishment of MFLs is to be completed by 7/1/15 but is allowed to be extended to 2022 (because NWFWMD has no flow information and the assumption is that there should be five years of data for the MFL to be defensible… Of course, the opportunity for delay is available to all WMDs.)

If there are springs affected by withdrawals from more than one WMD, the DEP establishes the MFL by 7/1/17.

At the time an MFL is established, a recovery or prevention strategy must be adopted simultaneously (if it is needed).

All MFLs of OFS adopted prior to the effective date of the bill (7/1/14) must be revised

By 7/1/17 and, if needed, recovery or prevention strategies must be adopted simultaneously with the adoption of the revised MFL.

When it is determined that an OFS needs a recovery or prevention strategy, the WMD or DEP shall “expeditiously” adopt one.

If a recovery or prevention strategy is needed the strategy must include:

  • a listing of projects, 
  • priority listing,
  • their costs, and
  •  how much the WMD will put up (all but NFWMD and SRWMD must put up at least 25%.) 
  • estimated date of completion;
  • estimate of each project’s benefit to an OFS;
  • map and legal description of SPAMZ;
  • implementation plan to achieve adopted MFL within 15 years (with 5 and 10 year milestones). 

Local governments may apply for extensions of up to 5 years; local governments in rural areas of critical economic concern may apply for extensions of up to 10 years.

Section 3
Short title “Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act”;  creates a new “Part VIII” of chapter 373.

Section 4
Findings and intent
            Importance of springs
            Connection between water quantity and water quality
            Importance of Springsheds
            Need to act

Section 5
            Department – DEP
            Local Government  -  county or municipal government whose jurisdiction includes an Outstanding Florida Spring or its Spring protection and management zone
            OSTDS – uses the DOH language
            Outstanding Florida Spring (OFS) – all historic first magnitude springs and six others
            Spring protection and management zone
            Spring run
            Spring vent

Section  6
The bill requires DEP to delineate "springs protection and management zones" (SPAMZ) using best data available.  Delineation is to be completed by 7/1/15 and maps and legal descriptions  by 7/1/16.

(Section 7 was included with MFL sections 1 and 2 above)

Water Quality
Section   8
Protection of water quality

DEP is to initiate the assessment of the water quality of each Outstanding Florida Spring (OFS) for which an impairment determination has not yet been made by 7/1/14.  Assessments must be completed by 7/1/17

At the same time a nutrient TMDL is adopted DEP shall initiate development of a BMAP.  For OFS with existing TMDLs the DEP  shall initiate the /development of a BMAP by 7/1/14.  If during the development of the BMAP the DEP identifies septic systems as a nonpoint source of pollution that needs addressing within a local government’s jurisdiction, it notifies the local government  within 30 days, and the local government is to develop a remediation plan for inclusion in the BMAP.
The BMAP is to be adopted within 3 years of its initiation and must include, at a minimum:

  • a listing of projects identified to implement a nutrient TMDL, 
  • a list of projects in an OSTDS remediation plan, if applicable
  • priority ranking for each listed project,
  • estimated cost for each project
  • estimated date of completion;
  • the source and amount of financial assistance to be made available by DEP, a WMD or other entity
  • estimate of each project’s nutrient load reduction;
  • map and legal description of SPAMZ;
  • identification of each point source and category of nonpoint sources with an estimated allocation of the pollutant load for each.  (This determination will help in achieving the goal of "Worst First".)
  • implementation plan to achieve adopted MFL within 15 years (with 5 and 10 year milestones). 
For OFS with an existing BMAP as of the effective date of the bill (7/1/14) a revision must be done by 7/1/17.

Upon approval of an OSTDS remediation plan it shall be deemed incorporated into the BMAP

Local governments may apply for extensions of up to 5 years; local governments in rural areas of critical economic concern may apply for extensions of up to 10 years.

 (more or less, the gist of the water quality part of the bill starts here)
Localities in SPAMZs must meet or exceed the Model Ordinance for lawn fertilizer within 6 months of the delineation of SPAMZ  (Localities are NOT preempted from adopting more stringent regulations.)  DEP is to adopt rules to implement this paragraph and incorporate advancements or improvements in future rules

DEP, DOH, and local governments identify OSTDS within each SPAMZ by 7/1/16 and within 60 days provide the location of the septic systems to the local government.  If the local government has been notified by DEP that the OSTDS need to be addressed in one year the local governments are to develop an OSTDS remediation plan which says which systems need to be upgraded, which need to connect to sewer, and which need no further action.  The plan must include a priority ranking and must be submitted to DEP for approval.

DEP is to consider at least the following when approving OSTDS remediation plans:

  • The density of OSTDS
  • The number of OSTDS
  • The proximity of OSTDS to an OFS
  • The estimated nutrient loading of the OSTDSs or OSTDS
  • The cost of the proposed remedial action
Prior to submitting an OSTDS remediation plan to DEP, the local government must hold at least one public meeting for public comment on the plan.  The approval of an OSTDS remediation plan by the DEP is final agency action.

If a local government does not substantially comply, they may not be eligible for funding.

Property owners with an OSTDS may not be required to pay any of the costs of a system inspection or for upgrading a system, or connection fees to a sanitary sewer.

Section 9
By 12/31/14 DEP is to adopt rules to evaluate, rank, and select projects eligible for funding giving preference to those that will result in the greatest improvement in water quality and quantity for the dollars spent.  They shall consider at a minimum:

  • The level of nutrient impairment in the OFS
  • The quantity of pollutants, particularly nitrogen, the project is estimated to remove from an OFS with a TMDL
  • The flow necessary to restore an OFS to its adopted MFL
  • The anticipated impact the project will have on restoring or increasing water flow or water level
  • The amount of matching funds to be provided by the entities responsible for implementing the project
  • Whether the project is in a rural area of critical economic concern, with preference given to the local government responsible for implementing the project
  • For multiple-year projects, whether there are funding sources assured through the expected completion date
  • The cost of the project and length of time to complete it relative to its expected benefits
  • Whether the entities responsible for implementing the project have used their own funds for water quality or conservation within a springshed or SPAMZ of an OFS since July 2009 with preference given to those that have done so.
Section 10
Prohibited activities in a SPAMZ

            No new municipal or industrial wastewater disposal systems, including rapid infiltration basins, with permitted capacities of 100,000 gallons per day or more, unless they meet AWT standard or higher if required by DEP

            No new OSTDS on lots of less than an acre except for passive nitrogen removing OSTDS approved by DOH.  This prohibition does not go into effect until after DOH approves such systems for use.

            No new facilities for disposal of hazardous waste

            No land application of class A or B domestic wastewater biosolids or septage

            New agricultural operations that do not implement BMPs, measures necessary to achieve pollution levels established by DEP, or a groundwater monitoring plan approved by a WMD or DEP.

Section 11
      DEP is to model the evaluation, selection, and ranking process on the TMDL Water Quality Restoration Grants Rule
      DOH, DACS, and WMDs may adopt rules to administer this part
      DACS is lead agency on reducing agricultural nonpoint sources and, with DEP, is to study new or revised BMPs – and if necessary to do rulemaking
      DACS to research and develop with IFAS additional nutrient management tools to be included by rule into revised BMPs

Section 12.

Every July first, starting in 2015, DEP is to submit a progress report to the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the President of the Senate on:

  • Each TMDL
  • Each BMAP
  • Each MFL
  • Each recovery or prevention strategy
The report must include the status of each project identified to achieve a TMDL and an MFL.  If a report indicates that any of the interim 5 or 10 year milestones or the 15 year deadline will not be met, it must include specific corrective actions that will be taken to achieve them, and if necessary, executive and legislative recommendations.

Section 13
Funding for the coming fiscal year (2014-2015) is provided in specific provisions 1645 and 1390 of the General Appropriations Act and shall be determined each subsequent year in the GAA

Section 14
Effective date:  7/1/14

David Cullen
Sierra Club Florida lobbyist