Conservation Report

By Whitey Markle

In view of the current political situation here in Florida and nationwide, we must begin to understand our governmental representative and we must begin to engage them with our positions on critical environmental issue. Most of them will listen, and we have concluded , over time, that the best wy to convince your representatives is with good financial reasoning. We all know the  financial value of clean water and air, and the value of public lands for our overall health and well-being. If you are interested in learning how to engage your officials, let us help you. If you are interested Please email  me at for more information.

The legislature is gearing up now with committee hearings in preparation for the opening session on March 7. All bills must be filed by noon on that day. So far, there are several important bills filed that we are focusing on as well as amendments to passed bills that Sierra Club Florida has introduced in collaboration with the Florida Springs Council.

Senator Perry’s Bill – proposing to remove the governance of Gainesville Regional Utilities from the Gainesville City Council (elected by rule), and replace governance with “appointed” Board. There will be a separate article by Roberta Gastmeyer on this bill.

SB 442- (Senator Dana Young) HB 451 (Rep. Mike Miller)The“Ban Fracking “ bill - Advanced Well Stimulation Treatment; Prohibiting the performance of advanced well stimulation treatments; clarifying that permits for drilling or operating a well do not authorize the performance of advanced well stimulation treatments, etc. Deals with both hydraulic and chemical fracturing statewide. Also deals with trade secrets, water use (during fracturing), and contaminants.

SB 992 (Senator Perry) The “Slapsuit Bill”  - Imposes monetary penalties on Plantiffs in certain cases.  “ The purpose of this section is to diminish the deterrent effect of seeking review of, or defending against,  governmental action by providing in certain situations an award  of attorney attorney’s fees and costs against the state and to  diminish the imbalance of consequences when seeking review of,  or defending against, such challenges in administrative  proceedings by providing in certain situations an award of  attorney fees and costs against the party that does not prevail.”  Filed in Senate  not assigned to c00ommittee.

SB 98- (Senator Farmer)  Commonly called, the “ Stop Fracking Bill” - , prohibiting the Department of  Environmental Protection from issuing permits  authorizing extreme well stimulation. There is a companion bill in the House of representatives.

SB 10-(Senator Bradley) Water Resources (commonly called “the Everglades Bill”) – Providing an exception to the requirement that bonds issued for acquisition and improvement of land, water areas, and related property interests and resources be deposited into the Florida Forever Trust Fund and distributed in a specified manner; requiring the South Florida Water Management District to seek proposals from willing sellers of property within the Everglades Agricultural Area for land that is suitable for the reservoir project; increasing the minimum annual funding for certain Everglades projects under specified circumstances, etc. Would provide for a 60,000 acre reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to clean water from the lake and then send it south through the everglades where it will help restore the hydrology of the ecosystem, recharge the aquifer South Florida residents and visitors depend on, and reduce salinity that is killing the seagrass in Florida Bay while reducing the harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and their estuaries including Indian River lagoon.
APPROPRIATION: Indeterminate. There are several questionable provisions in this bill has a House companion bill: HB 761 (Representative Altman).

SB 234 (Senator Bradley) Land Acquisition Trust Fund – Requiring a specified appropriation for certain projects related to the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Lake Region, etc. APPROPRIATION: Indeterminate. This bill is quite vague; has purchase, recreation, public access + associated areas (Keystone) which is not Conservation lands .We are attempting to insert language that will cause the bill to adhere to the parameters set forth in Amendment 1: appropriate use of Land Acquisition Trust funds. Such language is called, “Comfort language”.

SB 162 (Senator Rodriguez). Plastic Bags Pilot Program - Would allow coastal communities with populations of less than 100,000 to ban or regulate the use of disposable plastic bags as a pilot program from 1/8/2018 through6/30/2020 (2.5 yrs.), to collect data on the program, and to report it to the Department of Environmental protection.

Fixes to SB 552 (Senator Dean) The Water Bill, (passed in 2016). – The following proposals improve upon the 2016 legislation with commonsense provisions to protect Florida’s waters, including precious Outstanding Florida Springs (OFS), and ensure that our tax dollars are being used efficiently and effectively in a manner which provides maximum benefit for Florida’s environment.

Proposal 1- Amending 373.036  F.S.  - Requires each Water Management District with an OFS to estimate a maximum sustainable groundwater withdrawal which balances the needs of ecosystems and the economy.
Rationale:To make sustainable permitting decisions, properly allocate water resources, and efficiently direct water supply funding, it is essential that water management districts know much water is available for use. Combined with monitoring use by permit holders (proposal 3 below), this will provide for much needed information for permitting water withdrawals and protecting natural resources.

Proposal 2- Amending 372.0421 F.S. – Eliminates redundancies among environmental agencies and unnecessary oversight of water management districts, while improving the consumptive use process.
Rationale: Existing law requires water management districts (WMDs) to undertake a costly review and update of regional water supply plans if a consumptive use permit (CUP) is denied, limiting the ability of WMDs to appropriately consider CUP applications. In practice, the change reduces the District’s ability to negotiate with applicants over permit conditions and provides a significant disincentive for Districts to ever deny a CUP application. The proposal provides that should a CUP be denied, the appropriate reviewing agency is the District that denied the permit, not FDEP, and that the regional water supply plan should be updated annually.

Proposal 3- Amending 373.223  F.S. – Requires all consumptive use permit holders to monitor water usage and report the results to the applicable WMD on a quarterly basis following the EXISTING procedures of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s “water use permit applicant’s handbook”.
Rationale: Water use monitoring should apply to all large consumptive use permits, given the extended periods of some permits, the negative effects of over-pumping on Florida’s springs and the need to properly allocate water supply funding.  The 8 inch well inside diameter condition in current law is inappropriate; the amount pumped, not the size of the pipe, should trigger the monitoring requirement. Combined with proposal 1 above (sustainable withdrawals) this proposal provides much-needed information for permitting water withdrawals and protecting natural resources.

Proposal 4- Amending 373.705 F.S. – Gives preference for public funding to water supply projects that maximize water conservation.
Rationale: Water supply projects that receive preference for state or WMD funding assistance should have environmental benefit as well as create additional water supply.

Proposal 5- Amending 373.805  F.S. – Requires the reservation of water to restore the minimum flow of water level for an OFS.
Rationale: A necessary tool to restore minimum flow in an Outstanding Florida Spring if flow drops below the minimum  required. WMDs are currently authorized to reserve water in certain situations, but not for the protection of Outstanding Florida Springs.

Proposal 6- Amending 373.807 F.S. – Requires an estimated allocation of pollutant load reductions for each source or category of sources within a priority focus area of an OFS. Requires agricultural producers within Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) areas surrounding OFS’s to implement Best management Practices (BMPs) or measures necessary to achieve pollution reduction levels within two years of the adoption of a BMAP. Requires the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to assemble data on agricultural fertilizer use and to provide such data to FDEP.
Rationale: Pollutant load reduction allocations must identify the necessary load reductions for both groundwater and surface water to OFSs. Agricultural BMPs should be implemented expeditiously near OFSs. Agricultural producers in BMAP areas are already required by law to maintain fertilizer records, ensuring that these records are collected and analyzed would provide FDEP with critical information for implementing restoration programs.

Proposal 7- Amending 373.811 F.S. – Adds industrial wastewater disposal facilities, new septic tank systems on lots of 1 acre or less within an area for which a septic tank remediation plan is necessary to achieve the Total maximum Daily Load (TMDL), and new concentrated animal feeding or finishing operations to the list of prohibitive activities within the priority focus area of an OFS.
Rationale: If there is to be any hope of restoring Florida’s springs, it must start with preventing new sources of pollution. Allowing new nutrient pollution sources, like industrial wastewater facilities, inside a priority focus area for an OFS ensures that we will not make sufficient progress on restoring water quality. Current law allows the installation of septic tanks for up to 5-7 years after the has determined that Onsight Sewage Disposal System (OSTDs) are a significant contributor of nutrient pollution and a remediation plan is necessary. The result could be homeowners who are forced to replace septic systems just years they are installed, increasing costs to homeowners and government and continued declines in water quality. Delaying action on preventing new sources of nutrient pollution in AFS springsheds will increase the cost and delay the achievement of meeting water quality standards.

Proposal 8- Amends 373.814  F.S. – Requires the creation of improved Best Management Practices (BMPs) if current BMPs are found to be insufficient to meet agricultural pollution reduction goals for OFSs.  Requires FDACS to partner with FDEP to fund conservation easements which include the conversion to less polluting BMPs such as long leaf Pine cultivation on agricultural lands where current operations are inconsistent with springs  protection.
Rationale: In rural areas, BMAPs rely mostly on Implementation of BMPs to achieve water quality goals. In some instances, Advanced BMPs will be necessary to achieve water quality go production and restore water quality goals. In order to maintain lands in agricultural production and restore water quality, funding is needed to purchase conservation easements which protect farmland and pay producers to switch to less intensive agricultural activities.

Lobbyist- David Cullen
Lobbying Advisory Committee (LAC)- SC members advise Cullen in a weekly phone conference during session on goals, priorities, what bills to favor or oppose, the best way to phrase SC’s positions that are palatable to legislators, and possible vetoes. The de facto chair of the LAC is Tom Larson who works between the committee and the Florida Chapter EXCOM. Home  904-247-1876 C: 904-710-5538, Legislative alerts are posted regularly on the blog or at: Facebook/ Florida Sierra Club.

The Columbia County Commission Chairman, Ron Williams shouted, “This dog won’t hunt!” as he held up a letter her had apparently solicited from the Florida Department of Agriculture (FDACS) in Tallahassee, stating that the proposed ordinance written by the Columbia County Commission was against state law.
The re-writing of the Columbia Land Development Regulations has been in the works since 2015 when JTC Farms silently and quickly began an industrial chicken factory near the Santa Fe River less than 1 and a half miles from Ft. White. At first the Commission rebuffed and rejected all who protested, but later showed compassion and expressed a desire to work with environmentalists toward amendments in the regulations which would allow the county to have more control over the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

Whitey Markle, Chair, SSJ Sierra Club addresses the Columbia County Commission. Photo courtesy of Our Santa Fe River.

Thus in August, 2016, members of Our Santa Fe River met with Joel Foreman, Columbia County Attorney, in his office to begin a re-writing which would redefine “Intensive Agriculture” and  require County oversight regarding CAFOs in high-recharge areas of the aquifer. The area of Columbia County so designated includes roughly the area south of Highway 27 and the basin of the Itchetucknee River.

County Attorney Foreman carefully worded the amendment to allow for the right to farm and other pertinent agricultural laws. The amendment passed the first reading with great reception from the Commission (and audience)  and was ready for the final reading and passage on February 15th.A crowd of about 500, mostly farmers and ranchers showed up for the hearing. It appears that Chairman Williams contacted the state Department of Agriculture and others to advise the Commission on the second and final reading.

Those who spoke against the amendment were from groups such as the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, The Florida Farm Bureau Federation, The Florida Forestry Association, The Columbia County Farm Bureau, and the Pacific Legal Foundation (Martin County).
It also appeared there was confusion about the information these groups had received, as expressed by County Attorney Foreman at the beginning of the meeting, who reiterated that the amendment had nothing to do with forestry, row crops, or the small farmer and rancher, only industrial operations like the CAFOs such as the JTC operation at hand in the case.

In spite of Mr. Foreman’s clarification, most of the opposition focused on three points: The amendment would cost them money, curtail their rights, and was illegal. Several threatened to sue if the Commission were to pass the amendment.

During the Commissioners’ comments and questions, what stood out like a clap of thunder was the silence on their pat in directing questions to their paid County Attorney. This was the Board’s ordinance . This was their legal counsel. Why did no one direct a single question toward Mr. Foreman as to the legality of the ordinance?  Some suggested the opposition was solicited like the letter from FDACS to Chairman Williams. Apparently the Commission was privy to Williams’ actions and intent, but not the County Attorney over whose head Mr. Williams went flying.

Why did Chairman Williams not share with the bard and the interested public his intent to oppose the Board’s ordinance over a year ago? Why did he allow his attorney to spend his valuable time, not to mention that of the environmental groups, working on something he was determined to undercut and encourage his  Board members to oppose also?

These are legitimate questions to which the taxpayers of Columbia County deserve answers. It is unfortunate that the farm and ranch representatives have no understanding of the intent of the amendment, and little or no understanding of the crises our rivers and springs are undergoing. Most seem oblivious to the nitrate problem, saying say are the “original environmentalists”, implying that they have everything under control and that “everything works just fine as it is.”  They also should have been ale to realize that large industrial farming will harm the small farmers as well.

Sadly the Columbia County Board of Commissioners’ decision reflects the words of Chairman Williams, who said, ”Agriculture doesn’t pollute the water…people do”.
(This report paraphrase the post by Jim Tatum, Sierra Clun member and member of Our Santa Fe River on their Facebook page).

The Florida Springs Festival will take place at the Silver Springs State Park (SR 40 East of Ocala) on Mar. 4 and 5. This is a big festival where ALL environmentally-related organizations display their wares. You will not regret attending. The Silver Springs State park has been redone and is a sparkling beauty of a state park. And bring you children for 2 days of environmental display and recreation, plus many good food vendors, accompanied by several musical performers.