Putting the spring back into Florida’s natural wonders
On behalf of the nearly 7,000 employees of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the state’s five water management districts, I agree with much of what The Tampa Tribune’s editorial board says — Florida’s springs need our help. But more is being done by Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Cabinet members Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, the department and the districts than was illustrated in the April 5 editorial, “Restore our springs” (Our Views). The department and the districts have developed a three-pronged approach centered on restoration, regulation and research in order to urgently address the problems facing our springs. Restoration is, unfortunately, a process that takes time, and that is forgotten too easily.The problems that face our springs today have compounded over decades. Florida’s population has grown from 2 million to nearly 20 million in 70 years, and we can no longer use all the water we want and locate septic tanks where convenient as done in previous generations. Today, we have to address springs issues stemming from these past practices. The department develops long-term solutions to these problems, known as basin management action plans, to address local water-quality issues. For example, the department has 16 plans in place, eight of which have been finalized in the last 18 months. The Santa Fe and Ichetucknee springs plan, adopted just last year, includes the restoration of about 80 springs. In addition, there are four more plans that will be adopted in the next 12 months, encompassing nearly 170 additional springs. Regulation is how we can avoid additional damage to our state’s water bodies. The Tribune correctly highlighted that springs are negatively impacted by nutrients. During the past two years, the department and Gov. Scott have worked alongside the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency to reach historic agreements on numeric nutrient criteria to reduce the impact of nitrogen and phosphorous on our springs, rivers and lakes. Water management districts set minimum flows for the amount of water in springs needed to protect the environment. These minimum flows are based on extensive science that is — for many of our most important water bodies — peer-reviewed by independent scientists and an important step to protecting springs. The water management districts under the governor are on track to set 49 for springs before the end of 2014, compared to 22 during the previous two decades. Research is and will continue to be important to our springs protection efforts. No amount of money will be sufficient if it is not properly applied. In addition to the critical land purchases being made by Scott and the Cabinet, the department has committed millions of dollars to research to improve water quality within springs over the past two years. These are the studies that allow department scientists to establish the total maximum daily loads, a pollution reduction target, for areas such as the Rainbow Springs Group and Rainbow River, which the department established in February. Similarly, the Southwest Florida, South Florida and St. Johns River water management districts, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, will unveil this summer a shared groundwater model to be used for planning throughout Central Florida. This will enable the department and the districts to make planning decisions in this region based on the best shared science available. Scientists from local governments, the department and the water management districts provide the detailed, expert support we need to help restore these springs and protect our freshwater resources. With their help, we believe that our restoration, regulation and research strategy will bring these water bodies back to health.
Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. is secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.