Few issues are of more importance to Floridians than water. Over-consumption is irreversibly degrading our natural legacy of springs, rivers, and wetlands. Stormwater runoff from agriculture, lawns, and septic tanks carries increasing amounts of fertilizers and pesticides into our groundwater, fueling algae blooms and disrupting natural ecosystems. The Sierra Club urges local governments to do all within their power to protect water quantity and quality, and to demand action from state and federal governments when necessary.
Any rational approach to water issues must begin with the obvious truth that water flows freely across jurisdictional boundaries. In a 2000 public referendum, 70% of Alachua County residents acknowledged this truth, and voted to give County government the responsibility for protecting water quality countywide, including within municipal boundaries. County government is finally acting on this clear public mandate by updating its regulations to incorporate new technologies and practices that reduce pollution in stormwater runoff from new development. This initiative is designed to be adaptable to the unique hydrogeological characteristics of individual development sites, and includes separate standards that encourage density, redevelopment, and infill in urban contexts.
The County has proposed that these new standards apply countywide. The Sierra Club strongly supports this rational approach to protecting water quality, already embraced by an overwhelming majority of Gainesville and Alachua County voters. We encourage municipal elected officials to support and coordinate with the County to implement this initiative, and to develop their own standards that exceed County protections where possible, as the proposed County ordinance allows.
If you would like to help on this issue, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALACHUA’S STORMWATER MANUAL – SEXIER THAN YOU THINK
By Bob Palmer
On April 20, 2017, a panel discussion on the proposed Alachua County Stormwater Treatment Manual was hosted by the Alachua County Environmental Protection Advisory Committee, the League of Women Voters, and Alachua County Emerging Leaders. Although several of the speakers noted that “stormwater is not a sexy topic”, how the Alachua County Commission decides to treat this manual will have major implications for water quality and future development throughout the County, particularly in the Orange Lake and Santa Fe River watersheds.
Panelists at the April 20 “conversation” were Mark Clark (UF), Eric Livingston (Watershed Management Services/consultant to Alachua County), Rory Causseaux (Causseaux, Hewett, & Walpole, Inc.), Matt Surrency (Hawthorne Mayor) and Jim Gross (Florida Defenders of the Environment). The discussion was moderated by Marihelen Wheeler.
A substantial crowd of approximately 100 attended the panel discussion. Numerous Sierra Club members were in attendance but the size of the crowd was largely attributable to emails circulated prior to the meeting by members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Farm Bureau, and other pro-development interests. One of these emails read: “The proposed stormwater ordinance stands [as] perhaps the most dire threat to property rights, property values, and home rule Alachua County residents have ever seen.”
The Alachua County website describes the issue as follows: “The County is proposing advanced stormwater treatment requirements to protect water quality, restore watersheds, and achieve pollution reduction goals. The County is proposing to adopt minimum County-wide requirements for advanced stormwater treatment to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from new sources of urban stormwater runoff. The County proposes to encourage “best practices” for managing stormwater [by means of] low impact design, operation, and maintenance of stormwater infrastructure. The proposed standards require [reduction of] nitrogen and phosphorus pollution discharges to varying levels, depending upon site-specific factors and the existing pollutant levels of the receiving watershed.”
The new stormwater manual, if adopted, would apply only to new development; existing development and agricultural operations would remain unaffected. The basis for the new manual was explained in introductory remarks by Chris Bird, Director of the County’s Environmental Protection Department. Five-year updates to the Basin Management Action Plans for the Santa Fe River Basin and the Orange Lake Basin will likely require the County to reduce its nutrient loading to these watersheds, and stormwater is a nutrient source assigned to the County by these BMAPs. Section 62-40 F.A.C. sets a stormwater performance standard of an “80% reduction in the average annual load of pollutants that would cause or contribute to violations of water quality standards, 95% reduction for stormwater discharges into Outstanding Florida Waters.” However, a 2007 study confirmed that current design criteria in the State’s stormwater rules will not achieve these minimum levels of treatment. A new statewide stormwater standard was in development to update the treatment recommendations, but the new standard-setting process was cancelled by the Scott Administration. So we’re stuck with old, ineffective stormwater standards. Alachua County is trying to do the right thing by employing more advanced, scientifically valid standards.
Much of the discussion at the forum involved costs. The draft manual includes clean-up targets slightly more aggressive that those contained in rule – i.e. they are more in line with the 2007 study findings. Mr. Causseaux claimed that building stormwater basins on less than 100 acres of new development would cost $50 million. Mr. Livingston disagreed, pointing out that the manual has evolved from early drafts and that Mr. Causseaux grossly under-estimates the extent of various cost-effective options for achieving compliance with the proposed new rules. In any event, it is clear that the new manual, if adopted, would raise costs for new development. In the Eastern parts of the County, these costs would probably be minimal. In the western, sandier parts of the County, additional costs for development might be in the 1-2 percent range, according to Bird.
Mr. Clark is currently leading research work aimed at determining how the draft criteria would play out in various Alachua County soil types. As these studies wind down, it is expected that the Alachua County Commission will convene hearings to take comments on the draft manual, followed by a vote on adoption of the manual. Given the importance of this issue, and the vigor with which development interests will be organized in opposition to whatever form the new manual takes, it is imperative that Sierra’s Alachua members became educated on this issue and participate in the Commission’s hearings.
For an update on the stormwater manual, contact Gus Olmos at the Alachua County Department of Environmental Protection at 352-264-6806.
Also see this Gainesville Sun article.