State pledges funds, regulations to clean up Silver Springs

Environmentalists say it's not enough


Slimy green algae flows in the current in the main spring at the Silver Springs nature park on Wednesday. Years of drought, nitrate pollution have reduced the flow and spawned lots of green and brown algae growth compromising water clarity and quality.

Alan Youngblood/Star-Banner
Published: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 6:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 6:44 p.m.

The question for many members of the public after a Tuesday meeting about pollution levels in Silver Springs and the Silver River was one of trust.

Facts

Comment by Aug. 13

Comments regarding a proposed Total Daily Maximum Load for nitrates in Silver Springs and the Silver River should be directed to Richard Hicks, Professional Geologist Administrator of the Ground Water Management Section, Mail Station 3575, 2600 Blair Stone Road, Tallahassee, FL 32399-2400 or by email to richard.w.hicks@dep.state.fl.us. The deadline is Aug. 13.

Amid the scientific data and water regulators' projections that new standards would reduce pollution in those waters, the issue for many boiled down to whether they believed Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials had the best interest of the springs and river at heart.

Many attending the meeting at the McPherson Governmental Complex said they did not.

FDEP officials told about 150 people in attendance that they were proposing a limit, or Total Daily Maximum Load, for nitrates allowed in the spring and river.

Nitrate sources include fertilizers and animal and human waste.

Nitrate is fueling algae growth that is changing the water's chemistry and biology. The new Total Daily Maximum Load proposed is an average monthly level of .35 miligrams per liter of water, or 0.35 mg/L.

In a 92-page report issued this month, the FDEP reported that Silver Springs, the Silver River and other water sources contributing to the river further downstream had a mean nitrate level of 1.47 mg/L — more than four times the 0.35 mg/L goal.

FDEP officials said historical nitrate levels in the river and spring once were 0.05 mg/l.

"We at the state realize there's a problem," said FDEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard during the meeting. "I'm a problem solver by nature. I want to solve the problem before I leave (office)."

He did not allude to when that might be.

If the Total Daily Maximum Load is approved later this year, the state will create a Basin Management Action Plan. The plan will include details about how the Total Daily Maximum Load will be enforced and list unwanted sources of nitrates and how to stop them from entering the river and spring.

Vinyard announced during the meeting that his agency was allocating $1 million for projects to improve Silver Springs and the Silver River.

About $300,000 will go toward a project to redirect treated wastewater from the Silver Springs Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, about 1.5 miles from Silver Springs, to the Silver Springs Shores Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is 10 miles from the spring. The estimated cost of the project is $700,000.

The FDEP and Marion County will each contribute $300,000 and the St. Johns River Water Management District will contribute $100,000.

But environmentalist Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, cautioned that it will be 20 years before the Total Daily Maximum Load and Basin Management Action Plan starts having a positive effect on the river.

Of the plan to redirect treated wastewater, Knight said the money could be better spent. He said all the agency was doing was moving nitrates from one area of the Silver Springs basin to another and that the water, and nitrates, will eventually make their way into the spring.

Instead, the state should demand advanced nitrate treatment of all the county's treatment plants, Knight said.

The money should also be used to get rid of private septic tanks and help property owners pay to hook up to county wastewater treatment plants, he said.

He also called for a moratorium on all unnecessary fertilizer use, to the applause of many in the audience.

Much of the public's concern during the meeting centered on whether the monthly average of 0.35 mg/L would be stringent enough to make a difference and whether it would even be enforced.

"I'm concerned that we're already on a destructive course that's almost irreversible," said Richard Minzenberger of southwest Marion County.

Rob Williams, who came to the meeting from Tallahassee, said the FDEP was trying to set the highest pollution standards it thought it could get away with.

"What's the maximum nitrate level we can dump into the spring without something happening?" he said after the meeting. "I do not trust them.

Many in the audience, who said they came to learn about FDEP's proposal with an open mind, said they were unimpressed.

"My gut tells me they're doing a lot of dancing around," said Elaine Wilson of Fort McCoy. "It sounds to me it's going to take forever to achieve anything. It doesn't sound hopeful."

Ann Hamilton of Melrose, said before the meeting she wanted to research the issue more before reaching any conclusions. After the meeting, she said, "I'm optimistic it's a start, but not enough, quick enough."

Drew Bartlett, director of the FDEP's division of environmental assessment and restoration department, said the public's frustration stems from not seeing nitrate reductions until now.

But setting a Total Daily Maximum Load and creating a Basin Management Action Plan will yield results, he said.

"We've seen it work in other places," he said after the meeting. "You will see nitrate reductions (in Silver Springs and the river)."

Contact Fred Hiers at 352-867-4157 or fred.hiers@starbanner.com.

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