SOS NOW PULLS BACK THE CURTAIN ON STATE’S FAILURE TO PROTECT OUTSTANDING FLORIDA WATERS


An appeal has been filed in the 1st District Court of Appeals (1st DCA Case No.: 1D 14-5872) by a coalition of nonprofit corporations and individual citizens. The appeal challenges the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District for their failure to protect Chassahowitzka and Homosassa Springs against degradation. The appellants contend the state misinterprets the law and dismisses an opportunity to protect and restore the springs.

Save the Homosassa River Alliance, Inc., Chassahowitzka River Restoration Committee, Save the Manatee Club, Inc., Brad Rimbey, Mitchell Newberger, and Priscilla Watkins are asking the court of appeal to rule that water withdrawals cannot be allowed to degrade water quality any more than pollutants pouring out of a waste discharge pipe. The Appellants contend that in 1993 when the State, following Federal Clean Water Act policy, designated the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa Springs and River Systems as “Outstanding Florida Waters,” it was recognized that these springs and rivers are of exceptional aesthetic, ecological, and recreational value that should never be allowed to be degraded.

The appeal explains that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the antidegradation standard of the Clean Water Act applies to water withdrawals that lower water quality or degrade habitat for fish, wildlife, or plants. The appellants conclude that DEP’s failure to apply the antidegradation standard is an agency policy that contributes to the decline of ecosystems and water quality in Florida’s springs and spring-fed rivers.

Jim Bitter, the president of Homosassa River Alliance, said: “We are just asking the court to tell DEP that the no degradation standard applies to “activities” such as water withdrawals that lower water quality or degrade habitat for the fish, wildlife and plants in the OFW.”

That’s what the law says. Despite the appearance of vigorous hand wringing in Tallahassee while trying to figure out how to protect and restore Florida’s springs, the State needs only to apply existing laws designed to protect Outstanding Florida Waters. The appeal arises because DEP refuses to follow the law’s intent that antidegradation policy must be applied to activities, not just discharges.

With the passage of Amendment 1 by 75 % of Florida’s voters, the State has been given a mandate to better protect the environment. However, the State has a history of throwing money at symptoms of problems without addressing the root of the problem. Amendment 1 restoration funding won’t restore our Outstanding Florida Waters if the State won’t stop the continued degradation of spring water quality by prohibiting increased water withdrawals.