Malwitz-Jipson: Money to clean Santa Fe was swept down the river
Published: Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 10:40 p.m.
Almost a million dollars meant to help clean up the Santa Fe River has been quietly swept down the river.
When a potentially toxic form of blue-green algae named cyanobacteria was found last year in the Santa Fe River by the non-profit Our Santa Fe River, Inc., the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reacted quickly to address the potentially dangerous situation.
The DEP secured $900,000 from the state's total maximum daily load program to assist Santa Fe River Basin farmers in retrofitting their equipment with “fertigation” capabilities. (Fertigation basically cuts down on river pollution by allowing farmers to combine fertilizer and irrigation, saving water and limiting runoff pollution.)
The goal was to reduce by more than one million pounds the amount of nitrogen entering the Santa Fe watershed, while potentially saving 670 millions gallons of irrigation water. The money was specified to be used for the Santa Fe River Basin alone and the program was designed to be a test case to measure the impact of the new environmentally friendly irrigation and fertilization technique.
The Suwannee River Water Management District made a commitment of $180,000 of in-kind services to subsidize farmers who were willing to take part in the voluntary program.
DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vineyard Jr. put out press statements saying, “The DEP shares the concerns of local residents and river enthusiasts when nutrient impacts, such as algae blooms, prevent us from enjoying our beautiful waterways. We are committed to working with local governments and stakeholders to implement both long- and short-term strategies to address nutrient impacts in the Santa Fe River Basin.”
The program was fully underway last year, but in less than six months the lion's share of the $900,000 went instead to fertigation projects in the Suwannee River Basin.
Out of the known 28 farms that have agreed to the terms and conditions of the monetary grants, only six are in the Santa Fe River Basin.
The state agencies said they did not want to let money possibly sit idle while waiting for Santa Fe basin farmers to agree to fertigation retrofitting. So they sent our money to another river basin altogether.
Public trust in government's willingness and ability to effectively address environmental problems is certainly shaken by poor decisions like this one.
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson is president of Our Santa Fe River Inc.
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