silver springs alliance

SSA Blog

Welcome to the SSA Blog! This is a place to view current news and events concerning Silver Springs. SSA members are encouraged to join in the conversation by submitting comments below the main posts. 


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  • Wednesday, December 28, 2016 7:38 AM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    We're sorry to inform you of some very bad news.  Please read all the information below and take action by doing one of the things that we suggest at the end of this message.

    Remember the Adena Project? The cattle operation near Ft. McCoy which will siphon much needed water away from an already stressed out Silver Springs? The threat of Adena was the major topic at our big forums held at the College of Central Florida and other venues.

    After all this time, Adena hasn’t gone away. It did change its name. Now it is called Sleepy Creek Lands. In the past two years, there have been a few, mostly unsuccessful, legal actions taken to stop or diminish the cattle operation and slaughter house. Sleepy Creek Lands has reduced the overall amount of water it once wanted, but now they are expected to receive a second permit for additional water withdrawals totaling 2.68 million gallons per day (mgd) even though we are currently experiencing a drought.

    Last week, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD ) staff recommended approval of the Adena (Sleepy Creek Lands) Phase 2 permit application. This permit is part of the same project that once agitated and excited our community because of its potential negative impact on Silver Springs. 

    Here's an excerpt of a  key paragraph from a letter sent to a member of our SSA board last week from the district, because he's considered an "interested party" in the Adena project:

    The District gives notice of its decision to grant a permit for the following application(s): Sleepy Creek Lands LLC, 15045 NW 141st Ct, Williston, FL 32696-7446. Consumptive Use Permit application #91926-4. Project known as Sleepy Creek Lands North and East Tracts. This is an application for modification of an existing permit with a request for an additional 1.22 million gallons per day (mgd) of groundwater for agricultural use and a new allocation of 0.14 mgd for a new commercial/industrial use. The District proposes to allocate a total of 2.54 mgd of groundwater from the Upper Floridan aquifer for pasture irrigation, crop irrigation, and livestock use and 0.14 mgd for commercial/industrial use for years 2017 through 2023.

    See 2016 SCL Permit Approval Recommendation for additional information on this decision.

    The SJRWMD apparently was not swayed by its own staff's conclusion in 2014, when it determined that “reductions in Silver Springs flow will adversely impact important ecological structure and functions associated with riparian floodplains and the in-stream channel”, and found that “the applicant has not provided reasonable assurance that the proposed use of water will not contribute to exacerbate cumulative EOP adverse harm to the ecological structure and functions of Silver Springs and Silver River”. See 2014 SCL Permit Denial Recommendation.

    Yes, it is now two years later. But the staff recommendation in the 2014 staff report was predicated on a water request for a grand total of 2.58 mgd -- less than the amount that they are seeking today.

    If we stand in the shadows, they just might win! There's still a chance to stop them. Here's how:

    1. Send letters, emails, and make phone calls to the SJRWMD Executive Director and Governing Board stating your opposition to Consumptive Use Permit application #91926-4. Contact information for the SJRWMD is below:

    Mailing Address: St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board, ATTN: Chairman John Miklos, 4049 Reid Street, Palatka, FL 32177
    Phone Numbers: 386-329‑4500 OR 1-800-451‑7106
    Email Addresses for the SJRWMD Executive Director and Governing Board:
    2. Attend the January 10, 2017, SJRWMD Governing Board meeting beginning at 9 a.m. and participate in the public comment portion of the meeting to express your opposition to approval of this permit request. The Alliance will share additional information about this meeting with its members as it becomes available.


    3. Inform other environmental organizations and individuals about the Governing Board meeting and encourage them to attend to speak out against the permit or enter comments into the record.

    As more information about this permit becomes available, the Alliance will share it with you via email and our social media sites. Please help us by sharing this information with others and encouraging them to attend the January 10, 2017, SJRWMD Governing Board meeting. 

  • Thursday, December 18, 2014 7:29 AM | Deleted user
    Ocala Star-Banner 12/17/2014, Page B01


    By Andy Fillmore

    Correspondent 


    Environmental scientist and springs researcher Robert Knight told a capacity crowd at the IHMC evening lecture Tuesday that unless current trends are reversed, Silver Springs could be reduced to a dried up algae bowl in as little as 15 years.

    “Silver Springs is dying before our eyes. There is a myth that there is an unlimited supply of underground water,” Knight said.

    Knight spoke at the latest installment of evening lectures at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a technical research facility with offices in Ocala and Pensacola. The talks, free to the public, cover a wide range of topics and are co-hosted by the College of Central Florida. Knight, 66, grew up in Jacksonville and now lives in Gainesville. He has visited Silver Springs since 1953 and did his doctoral work there. He is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute and president of the Silver Springs Alliance. Some of the historically largest springs in the world are located in Central Florida, Knight indicated.

    Knight displayed pictures taken in an area of the Silver River over a number of years that showed a deterioration in the clarity of the water.

    He said he’d like to see a revitalization of Silver Springs and have it return as an tourist-drawing “economic engine” for the area.

    Groundwater pumping from the aquifer to satisfy needs including residential developments and commercial concerns, especially since 1980, have, “like a checking account balance,” drawn more from the aquifer than rain can replace, Knight contended.

    “We are suffering from our own development, our own footprint,” he said.

    SPRINGS
    on Page 6B

    Continued from IB

    'Many springs are down 30 to 40 percent over the last 80 years,' he said. 'They are unhealthy with a weak heart. Imagine losing 40 percent of your blood.'

    Knight explained that springs are an 'early warning system' of the health of the aquifer, like water overflowing from the top of a filled bucket. Knight has studied numerous Central Florida springs, including Poe Springs in Alachua County, which he claimed has 'stopped' flowing.

    'Most of the springs in Central Florida are down by about 30 percent. The aquifer is dropping about two inches per year in North Florida,' he said.

    He cited a drop in output of Silver Springs from about 500 million gallons a day to about 300 million gallons per day in roughly the last 50 years and pointed out that White Springs in North Florida has dried up.

    Knight made it clear he feels state government has failed to act even when 'laws have been in place since 1972' to protect water resources. He indicated that business concerns are attracted by 'free water.'

    'People just don't know about the issue and the state won't 'fess up. (State government) just keeps kicking the can (the water issue) down the road. They are in denial,' he said.

    Knight said that homeowner lawn watering accounts for 'about one-fourth' of the groundwater pulled out of the aquifer and said stopping the lawn and shrub watering would have a measurably positive impact.

    People should stand up to homeowner associations that insist on continued lawn watering, he said.

    Knight said he served as an expert witness in the request by businessman Frank Stronach for water to operate Adena Springs cattle ranch here.

    'I'm very opposed to (allowing) it. The Department of Environmental Protection is still reviewing this, and a decision is due in January,' he said.

    Stronach's request stood at 13 million gallons daily for some time but was reduced to 5.3 million gallons daily and may be dropped to 1.5 million gallons daily.

    Knight said 'public pressure' caused the initial requests to be lowered.

    Knight drew applause during his talk when he said 'Stronach should donate the land back for (a water) recharge (area)' for Silver Springs.

    He also drew a strong positive reaction from the crowd when he suggested the Rodman Dam be removed or breached to return a natural balance to the area.

    Knight discussed what he termed potentially cancer-causing levels of nitrates present in Marion County water, especially in the western part of the county.

    He indicated the nitrate was traceable to fertilizer runoff and '70 million' septic tanks in the county.

    He recommended less use of fertilizer, using Florida-friendly plants and avoiding runoff conditions.

    Lecture guest Lucia Beale, of Summerneld, in the area for 14 years, said she sese 'more vegetation and less fish' at some locations here, while attendee Richard Arntzen said he has seen public taste change to where they no longer enjoy just a laid-back visit to the springs.

    Lecture attendee and former governor Kenneth 'Buddy' MacKay said he 'agrees strongly' that the state government is not informing the public about water protection issues and not enforcing water protection regulations.

    'Robert Knight has a lot of courage and idealism. Protection of Silver Springs is a Marion County issue, and if anything brings Marion County together, it should be this,' MacKay said.

    In an added touch this month, Ocala Symphony Orchestra violinist Katie McCoy provided some Christmas season music during the reception.

     

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  • Sunday, November 23, 2014 12:10 PM | Deleted user

    Ocala Star-Banner 11/23/2014, Page A10


    By Bruce Ritchie
    Special to the Star-Banner

    O K, 2015 actually could be the “year of water” in the Florida Legislature.


    Certain Capitol pundits earlier this year predicted that water would be a top issue during the 2014 session. But they were wrong because there wasn’t support in both chambers for dealing with the issue.


    The Senate passed a springs bill that would have provided limited funding for projects to reduce groundwater pollution.


    But House leaders always had expressed reluctance because the Senate bill still was evolving, and they, instead, wanted a broader approach to water. The difference this year, according to House and Senate leaders, is voter approval of Amendment 1 will drive a focus on water issues. Approved by 75 percent of voters, Amendment 1 is expected to provide more than $10 billion over the next 20 years for land and water conservation.


    House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said soon after taking the gavel during Tuesday’s organizational session that water will be a policy and funding priority as the Legislature implements Amendment 1. “A clean, abundant water source for the future is important, and we need to focus on that,” he told reporters.


    New Senate President Andy Gardiner told reporters Amendment 1 is going to drive a lot of the debate about water legislation.


    During the organizational session, Gardiner told senators that the challenge of Amendment 1 is not spending more on the environment. Instead, he said, the challenge is spending less on transportation, affordable housing and economic development because tax revenues are being diverted.


    “There is going to be some pain undefined there is no doubt about that,” Gardiner said. “There is no question implementing this amendment will be a challenge.” He told reporters that Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also will be a part of the dialogue about water legislation. “Everybody is going to come in with a water policy,” he said. “Our job as the Legislature is to kind of go through them and make sure we do what is right.” But it’s still not at all clear what are the water problems that will be discussed or how the Legislature can address them.


    I’ve been covering springs issues for more than 20 years, and I know there are a variety of threats to springs undefined pollution and over-pumping, for example undefined and they vary with each spring. I don’t expect the Legislature to throw out water quality standards that the state, with support from industries and water utilities, adopted through an agreement with the federal government in 2013.


    Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said the Legislature will need to identify and prioritize issues that it faces with water quantity and quality for surface water bodies, such as lakes and rivers, as well as aquifers that feed springs.“If we can stop the point source of contamination, then we’re going to be able to let the bodies heal themselves,” Hays said.
    “There’s no point in us pouring millions or hundreds of millions of dollars into cleaning up large water bodies when we’re continuing to contaminate them.” But he also said he doesn’t see a need for new regulations to deal with those issues.


    Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach and House Democratic leader, said he hopes there aren’t any policy differences with Republicans on water issues. But he added that he doesn’t know because those issues haven’t been discussed.


    With 75 percent voter support, Amendment 1 is “a good litmus test perhaps for everything we’re moving forward doing in the next two years,” he said.


    OTHER VOICES

    Bruce Ritchie is an independent journalist covering environment and growth management issues in Tallahassee. He also is editor of Floridaenvironments. com.
    Column courtesy of Context Florida.

    By Bruce Ritchie

    Special to the Star-Banner
    O K, 2015 actually could be the “year of water” in the Florida Legislature.

    Certain Capitol pundits earlier this year predicted that water would be a top issue during the 2014 session. But they were wrong because there wasn’t support in both chambers for dealing with the issue.

    The Senate passed a springs bill that would have provided limited funding for projects to reduce groundwater pollution.

    But House leaders always had expressed reluctance because the Senate bill still was evolving, and they, instead, wanted a broader approach to water.

    The difference this year, according to House and Senate leaders, is voter approval of Amendment 1 will drive a focus on water issues. Approved by 75 percent of voters, Amendment 1 is expected to provide more than $10 billion over the next 20 years for land and water conservation.

    House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said soon after taking the gavel during Tuesday’s organizational session that water will be a policy and funding priority as the Legislature implements Amendment 1. “A clean, abundant water source for the future is important, and we need to focus on that,” he told reporters.

    New Senate President Andy Gardiner told reporters Amendment 1 is going to drive a lot of the debate about water legislation.

    During the organizational session, Gardiner told senators that the challenge of Amendment 1 is not spending more on the environment. Instead, he said, the challenge is spending less on transportation, affordable housing and economic development because tax revenues are being diverted.

    “There is going to be some pain undefined there is no doubt about that,” Gardiner said. “There is no question implementing this amendment will be a challenge.”

    He told reporters that Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also will be a part of the dialogue about water legislation.

    “Everybody is going to come in with a water policy,” he said.

    “Our job as the Legislature is to kind of go through them and make sure we do what is right.”

    But it’s still not at all clear what are the water problems that will be discussed or how the Legislature can address them.

    I’ve been covering springs issues for more than 20 years, and I know there are a variety of threats to springs undefined pollution and over-pumping, for example undefined and they vary with each spring. I don’t expect the Legislature to throw out waterquality standards that the state, with support from industries and water utilities, adopted through an agreement with the federal government in 2013.

    Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said the Legislature will need to identify and prioritize issues that it faces with water quantity and quality for surface water bodies, such as lakes and rivers, as well as aquifers that feed springs.

    “If we can stop the point source of contamination, then we’re going to be able to let the bodies heal themselves,” Hays said.

    “There’s no point in us pouring millions or hundreds of millions of dollars into cleaning up large water bodies when we’re continuing to contaminate them.”

    But he also said he doesn’t see a need for new regulations to deal with those issues.

    Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach and House Democratic leader, said he hopes there aren’t any policy differences with Republicans on water issues. But he added that he doesn’t know because those issues haven’t been discussed.

    With 75 percent voter support, Amendment 1 is “a good litmus test perhaps for everything we’re moving forward doing in the next two years,” he said.

    OTHER VOICES


    Bruce Ritchie is an independent journalist covering environment and growth management issues in Tallahassee. He also is editor of Floridaenvironments. com.

    Column courtesy of Context Florida. 
    By Bruce Ritchie

    Special to the Star-Banner
    O K, 2015 actually could be the “year of water” in the Florida Legislature.

    Certain Capitol pundits earlier this year predicted that water would be a top issue during the 2014 session. But they were wrong because there wasn’t support in both chambers for dealing with the issue.

    The Senate passed a springs bill that would have provided limited funding for projects to reduce groundwater pollution.

    But House leaders always had expressed reluctance because the Senate bill still was evolving, and they, instead, wanted a broader approach to water.

    The difference this year, according to House and Senate leaders, is voter approval of Amendment 1 will drive a focus on water issues. Approved by 75 percent of voters, Amendment 1 is expected to provide more than $10 billion over the next 20 years for land and water conservation.

    House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said soon after taking the gavel during Tuesday’s organizational session that water will be a policy and funding priority as the Legislature implements Amendment 1. “A clean, abundant water source for the future is important, and we need to focus on that,” he told reporters.

    New Senate President Andy Gardiner told reporters Amendment 1 is going to drive a lot of the debate about water legislation.

    During the organizational session, Gardiner told senators that the challenge of Amendment 1 is not spending more on the environment. Instead, he said, the challenge is spending less on transportation, affordable housing and economic development because tax revenues are being diverted.

    “There is going to be some pain undefined there is no doubt about that,” Gardiner said. “There is no question implementing this amendment will be a challenge.”

    He told reporters that Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also will be a part of the dialogue about water legislation.

    “Everybody is going to come in with a water policy,” he said.

    “Our job as the Legislature is to kind of go through them and make sure we do what is right.”

    But it’s still not at all clear what are the water problems that will be discussed or how the Legislature can address them.

    I’ve been covering springs issues for more than 20 years, and I know there are a variety of threats to springs undefined pollution and over-pumping, for example undefined and they vary with each spring. I don’t expect the Legislature to throw out waterquality standards that the state, with support from industries and water utilities, adopted through an agreement with the federal government in 2013.

    Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said the Legislature will need to identify and prioritize issues that it faces with water quantity and quality for surface water bodies, such as lakes and rivers, as well as aquifers that feed springs.

    “If we can stop the point source of contamination, then we’re going to be able to let the bodies heal themselves,” Hays said.

    “There’s no point in us pouring millions or hundreds of millions of dollars into cleaning up large water bodies when we’re continuing to contaminate them.”

    But he also said he doesn’t see a need for new regulations to deal with those issues.

    Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach and House Democratic leader, said he hopes there aren’t any policy differences with Republicans on water issues. But he added that he doesn’t know because those issues haven’t been discussed.

    With 75 percent voter support, Amendment 1 is “a good litmus test perhaps for everything we’re moving forward doing in the next two years,” he said.

    OTHER VOICES


    Bruce Ritchie is an independent journalist covering environment and growth management issues in Tallahassee. He also is editor of Floridaenvironments. com.

    Column courtesy of Context Florida. 
  • Monday, October 20, 2014 12:27 PM | Deleted user

    Getting back to nature is purpose of Silver Springs State Park



    By Barbara Brandon Schwartz
     

    Special to the Star-Banner 
    D
    uring the years that Silver Springs was leased from the state by Palace Entertainment, it was operated as an “attraction.” It served patrons who paid for and expected to be entertained in a more or less passive manner. 

    The purpose then was disconnected from the reality. Giraffes, emus, llamas and other species that were captive there were not native to Florida. Nor were they designed by nature to live in a confined, artificial environment for the sake of profit and amusement. As Marion County Commissioner Stan McClain so aptly stated in a recent newspaper article, they were “sideshow attractions” and did not fit with the stated purpose of the new state park. 

    That purpose is now being realized. 

    Before Oct. 2, 2013, there was Silver River State Park. The entrance to that side of the state park is on Baseline Road/ County Road 35. The mile-long winding road through the woods is lovely and quiet. There are miles of well-maintained hiking trails through woods, wetlands, oak hammocks and sandhill pine environments and an amazing variety of birds, animals and reptiles. There are peaceful Silver River overlooks, the incredible Silver River Museum, a Cracker Village, 57 RV and tent camping sites and 10 cabins for non-campers to rent. There are bicycle trails and equestrian trails under old growth trees. All of this is now part of the Silver Springs State Park, and the two “sides” are connected by a newly blazed trail. The park now totals 4,666 acres. 

    There is much to enjoy and much to learn here. Educational opportunities abound at the Silver River Museum, at the Education Center on the spring side of the park, and the informative signage along the trails. 

    There are park ranger-led activities, and events put on by the Friends of Silver Springs State Park. This multifaceted volunteer organization supports the park and the rangers on a daily basis with river patrols, recycling, gardening and more. 

    They also organize events to bring people into the park, such as the upcoming Phantoms in the Forest on Oct. 17 and the 5K Critter Trail run through the woods on Nov. 15. More information may be found at www. 

    floridastateparks.org and at www.silversprings.com

    This is not passive entertainment; this is active, healthy and sustainable recreation. This type of recreation enhances the natural environment. We begin to realize that we are part of it, that we love it and that we will care for it and pass it on to the next generation. That is the purpose of a state park. 

    OTHER VOICES
     


    Barbara Brandon Schwartz
     

    is an acupuncture specialist in Ocala and serves as secretary of the Silver Springs Alliance. 

    This is not passive entertainment; this is active, healthy and sustainable recreation. 


  • Thursday, October 02, 2014 10:24 AM | Deleted user

    By Fred Hiers 

    Staff Writer

     

    Ocala Star-Banner 10/02/2014, Page A01


    Gone are the zoo animals, exotic bird shows, kiddie rides and captive alligators. 

    On the anniversary of the state taking over operations of Silver Springs Nature Theme Park and folding the 246-acre attraction into the neighboring Silver Springs State Park, most of the changes can be seen by what is no longer there. 

    Park manager Sally Lieb has overseen the demolition of more than 20 buildings, many of which were part of a hodgepodge of structures built as new attractions were added in hopes of coaxing a few more tourists away from Orlando.


     
    Photo by Alan Youngblood/Staff Photographer

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which now owns and oversees the park, has poured about $4 million into the site. It has patched roofs, dug up leaking utility lines and repaired electrical and dilapidated air conditioning systems. Of the $4 million, $3 million came from the previous park lease holder, while $1 million came from FDEP itself. About $1 million is left to spend unless more comes from the Legislature. 

    The amount of work overhauling the park wasn’t a surprise to Lieb, who came to the park more than a year ago. 

    “My first clue (there were problems) were these little puddles everywhere with cones (to warn of standing water) rather than repairs,” she said. 

    The state took over operation of the aging tourist attraction on Oct. 1, 2013, from Palace Entertainment. The private amusement

     

    SPRINGS on Page 4A


    company agreed to hand over $4 million in exchange for getting out of the lease years early. It would have ended in 2029. Palace operated the park for 11 years.

    Operating the park now is like walking an environmental tightrope, Lieb said.

    One the one side is DEP’s mission of preserving and restoring the area’s resources. On the other is accommodating the public and maintaining the culture of the park.

    “We do defy our mission sometimes to meet public demand. We’re bending it a little to give people what they want,” she said.

    “There are certain cultural aspects that people are attached to … so the culture of the park is part of our mission, too,” she said, citing the park’s grand entrance.

    The springs have been a tourist attraction since the mid-1800s, and its commercial glass-bottom boats have operated since the 1890s.

    Animal attractions have been a popular part of the park for decades, but they were the first to go as the state prepared to take over.

    Lieb walked the east side of the park on a recent day and stood by the remains of a 1-foot-thick, 10-foot-high wall.

    She pointed to an empty field that was once home to the park’s cougars. The few feet of wall is all that remains. Lieb hopes to let the field return to its natural state.

    Then she pointed to a canal dividing where she stood and the five-acre Ross Allen Island, where captive alligators once were housed behind glass.

    The two bridges onto the island are gone now. They didn’t meet state standards. All remnants of the boardwalk on the island are also gone. The old boardwalk overwhelmed and took away from the island experience, Lieb said, adding, “Now it’s a community with cypress trees and beautiful wildlife.”

    The plan is to build a new bridge onto the island and a more modest boardwalk. The estimated cost is about $800,000 — about the same amount as the park’s annual budget. The park has 30 full- and part-time employees.

    Lieb then pointed to a small open field.

    “This is where the bleachers used to be, and the bird show was over there,” she said, pointing to the other side of a concrete slab walkway.

    An old speaker hung from a tree nearby — the only tangible reminder of the shows once staged there.

    Left as it was is the Jeep safari ride staging area, where customers once got onto the vehicles that drove through terrain covered with monkeys and captive bears, horses, emus and llamas. All the exhibit structures from the 15-minute Jeep ride are gone.

    Lieb said the animal removal was a decision by the state to not be in the zoo business.

    There was an exception: Hundreds of rhesus monkeys still roam the park. The state stopped allowing private hunters to remove the primates when the public learned they were being sold to a medical research lab.

    The popular glass-bottom boats are still there, but the park’s fleet has been reduced by half to eight crafts.

    The park now contracts with Silver Springs Management as its vendor.

    Along with the demolition, Lieb cited some new construction as part of the park’s progress. That includes a new canoe and kayak launch facility, new wood boardwalk and hand rail around the spring, and new cedar roofs for many remaining buildings. A gift shop, ice cream parlor, restaurant, art gallery and educational center are still operating.

    Wild Waters water park also will remain open, at least through 2016, after which the lease with Silver Springs Management to operate the water park ends, Lieb said. The future of Wild Waters will be decided then.

    Still on the agenda is to open part of the spring area to swimming, but the logistics haven’t been worked out yet, Lieb said. Swimming may be allowed during the 2015/2016 season.

    Also remaining open is the Twin Oaks Amphitheater, where concerts will continue to be held.

    The park also has about 1,000 parking spaces. The plan is to remove about half, with grass for overflow parking during special events, Lieb said.

    The park has a mandate to be as financially self-reliant as possible, so it needs 500,000-1 million visitors per year to accomplish that, Lieb thinks.

    Most of the patrons at the park Tuesday said they won’t be returning. More than 100 came to the park despite some occasional drizzle.

    Those patrons included Janet Pigeon, 79, her daughter, granddaughter and grandson. They said that the park needed to offer more.

    “There are enough rivers and springs in Florida to canoe and kayak. The little Jeep ride and animals: that was great. You have to have something more (than what is currently at the park),” Pigeon said.

    Her daughter, Sandy Winsett, was also disappointed.

    “I used to come here on school (field trips),” Winsett said. “I guess we’ll have to find another park.”

    Katey Smith, 35, came to the park with her husband, 11-yearold son and 2-year-old daughter.

    “We thought there were still animals here,” Smith said. “It’s great that they’re bringing it back to its natural state, but all you have is boat rides for the kids now.”

    Her son, Ian Erickson, agreed.

    “If it was like it used to be, with animals, Jeep rides and a petting zoo, I would come back,” he said. “But if not, I would probably go to Disney.”

    Tom Savage and his wife, Vanessa, came from Lake City. They had planned to spend the day at the park and get a Ocala motel room for the night.

    “It’s (noon) and we’re already done. There used to be alligators and animals. What are you going to replace that with? Glass-bottom boats are not enough,” Tom Savage said. “We won’t drive back 80 miles to come here.”

    Marion County Commissioner Carl Zalak, who advocated taking the park out of private hands, said the park remains an ecotourism opportunity.

    He said he would like to see swimming and activities like zip lining at the park. He wants the park opened for festivals and attractions like car shows.

    So far, after a single year of state operation, Zalak said he is satisfied with the progress.

    “I think they’re moving in the right direction, but not as fast as we all wanted,” he said.

    Commissioner Stan McClain said he believes people will come back to the park once they understand its focus is on its natural resources rather than sideshow attractions.

    “This isn’t the same park that we had 50-60 years ago,” McClain said.

    The focus is now more about connecting the park with other protected state lands and long-term goals rather than immediate changes, he said.

    “Whether we’re doing it (developing and protecting the park) or (DEP) is doing it, we’re partners with them,” he said. “I’m excited about the future.” Contact Fred Hiers at 867-4157 or fred.hiers@starbanner.com.

  • Thursday, October 02, 2014 10:21 AM | Deleted user
    David Guest
    Managing Attorney Earthjustice Tallahassee


    Ocala Star-Banner 10/02/2014, Page A08


    Fred Hiers’ Sept. 18 article about the pollution going into Silver Springs (“State projects planned in attempt to help Silver Springs”) brought up a very important point. Even though state environmental regulators know that more than half of the nitrogen that’s applied on land in the spring basin comes from commercial agriculture, the state has no enforceable requirements to make it stop. 

    Agricultural operations are only asked to do voluntary “Best Management Practices” to keep nitrogen from fouling our drinking water. 

    It’s as if the Highway Patrol said it was OK for some of us to voluntarily report our speed on Florida highways. Nobody would ever get a speeding ticket. But that’s exactly what the state is doing with agricultural pollution: The state suggests that agricultural operations should comply with pollution laws, and only about a third of them say that they are complying. 

    This state policy needs to be reformed. It simply is not fair to have one set of rules for one polluter, and a different set of rules for everyone else. 

    Protecting our public drinking water supplies has been undefined and should be undefined one of government’s core functions. Instead, loopholes crafted by lobbyists in Tallahassee are leaving the rest of us with algae-choked springs and polluted water. 

    Agriculture is the biggest contributor to the nitrogen pollution in the Silver Springs basin, but it doesn’t have to be. 

    To protect our drinking water, we should all insist that our state leaders reform this “get-a-free-pass” policy that allows agriculture to pollute at all of our expense. 

  • Monday, September 22, 2014 5:08 PM | Deleted user

    Ocala Star-Banner 09/22/2014, Page B03

     

    IN OUR OPINION

    Aspate of recent news reports shows that the state still isn’t really serious about protecting our springs and other water resources, despite actions and words to the contrary.

    Recently, state lawmakers allocated $25 million in funding for springs restoration. The money is to be matched by $44 million from local governments and water management districts.

    Springs advocates shouldn’t necessarily celebrate.

    As Florida Springs Institute Director Robert Knight pointed out in a column last month for the Star-Banner, the projects were chosen behind closed doors without citizen involvement. Much of the money is being spent on subsidies to farms, housing developments and other private interests undefined the same kind of entities responsible for draining and polluting our groundwater in the first place. The projects include $3.6 million to reduce groundwater withdrawals at a Hamilton County phosphate mine and $12 million to be used in part to allow three Citrus County golf courses to use reclaimed water.

    The state continues to subsidize private entities without requiring them to change the behaviors that degraded undefined and continue to degrade undefined our springs.

    While these projects provide benefits, groups getting taxpayer money also should be required to take steps such as dramatically reducing nutrient pollution.

    Another news item that appeared good on its face was an administrative law judge’s ruling last week on the state’s proposed environmental protections for the Lower Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers in Alachua and Columbia counties. The judge ruled that the protections, known as minimum flows and levels, or MFLs, are invalid.

    Despite the state’s acknowledgment that the water bodies and springs have already suffered significant environmental harm, the MFLs were watered down to allow utilities and other big users to get massive, 20-year water withdrawal permits. The permits will supposedly be re-evaluated once a water study is done within five years. The judge ruled on narrow, technical grounds in finding that required supporting information for the regulations was too vague. While the advocates who filed the challenge celebrated the decision, regulators have suggested they will make only limited changes to the rules.

    Meanwhile, closer to home, scientists for the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation held a public hearing last week on the implementation of its long-awaited Silver Springs Basin Management Improvement Plan, of BMAP. The plan is supposed to be a blueprint for cleaning up the springs by reducing nitrate loads that cause the pollution and destruction of the springs. Springs supporters who showed up to listen were unsettled when they were told DEP officials are not certain the plan will even work.

    These recent events and ensuing new reports suggest that protecting our springs is now a major part of the state’s public-policy debate. But until the state gets serious about reversing the springs’ decline, the new projects and regulations will only maintain the status quo of degraded water resources.


     

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  • Friday, September 19, 2014 8:31 PM | Deleted user
    Ocala Star-Banner 09/19/2014, Page B02


    By Fred Hiers 

    Staff writer
     

    Florida government scientists on Thursday laid out the first steps of their strategies that they hope will reduce polluting nitrogen in Silver Springs in order to meet new water quality standards. 

    But as they take better stock of the sources of nitrogen undefined such as a before-uncounted 7,141 septic tanks near the springs undefined Florida Department of Environmental Protection scientists say they cannot guarantee how much cleaner the springs will get when nitrogen loading is reduced on the 588,417-acre area that recharges the springs. 

    The state-mandated goal is to reduce all of Florida springs’ nitrogen concentrations to 0.35 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of spring water, a 79 percent reduction from Silver Springs’ current concentration of 1.69 mg/l. 

    The FDEP has registered nearly 80 projects, overseen by a variety of government agencies, that scientists hope will help reduce Silver Springs polluting nitrogen. 

    But FDEP scientist Mary Paulic told the Star-Banner there was an “unclear linkage” and “uncertainty between land application (of nitrogen) and the concentration in the springs.” She drew the conclusion immediately after a meeting in Marion County to discuss the Silver Springs Basin Management Action Plan. 

    In addition, Paulic said there is no clear-cut answer as to how much each project will reduce nitrogen concentrations in the springs. 

    But despite the uncertainty, Paulic said scientists know that reducing the amount of nitrogen that’s loaded onto the springs recharge area will reduce the amount of nitrogen in the springs. 

    The basin management action plan is the blueprint by which Marion County and FDEP determine which activities, such as nitrogen generation, affect the springs, and it spells out how such activities can be curtailed. There are basin management action plans
     (BMAPs) for a number of water basins throughout Florida. 

    The nitrogen comes from a variety of sources, such as septic tanks, cattle and horse ranches, farms and residential fertilizer. 

    The FDEP has already designated Silver Springs as impaired, with a nitrate level that is more than three times beyond the acceptable range. 

    Nitrogen contributes to unwanted, high concentrations of algae and water grasses in the springs and creates a chemical imbalance in the spring affecting fish and wildlife that depend on the water body.

    Here’s a look at some key nitrogen numbers: FDEP estimates that 12 million pounds of nitrogen is placed on land surfaces making up the BMAP area. 

    About 7.6 million pounds of that comes from commercial agriculture: cattle, horse and crop farms. 

    Paulic said that if all of the BMAP area farms and ranches follow state laid-out best management practices, the amount of nitrogen applied to the land would be reduced by 30 percent, or 2.3 million pounds. 

    Florida requires farms and ranches in the basin area to follow best management practices, but there is no penalty if they do not. 

    Paulic reported during the meeting that 18.2 percent of the agricultural land in the BMAP area already reports following best management practices. More farms and ranches may already be following those practices, but the FDEP may not be aware of it. 

    In addition, following draft basin management recommendations would also reduce nitrogen from wastewater treatment plants, septic tanks, drain fields and urban fertilizer and runoff another neatly another 300,000 pounds. 

    About 1.6 million pounds of nitrogen annually makes its way into the area groundwater. 

    But Paulic and Shane Williams, a Marion County stormwater project manager who helped organize the meeting and some of the
    nitrogen data, warned that the nitrogen reduction estimates are still preliminary and could likely change. 

    But some of the 40 people in attendance said they wanted a clearer tie from DEP showing how the projects and best management practices would reduce nitrogen polluting Silver Springs. 

    “How on earth is this getting us to (a) 79 percent (nitrogen reduction in Silver Springs)?” asked Lisa Saupp, a Silver Springs Alliance board member. 

    If many farmers and ranchers are already following best management practices and “if there’s no enforcement … beyond that point, we’re just continuing to build the problem,”
     Saupp said. “We need to show actual (nitrogen reduction) outcome,” she said, not lists of projects. 

    Paulic replied that best management practices were complicated and their effect not immediately known. In addition, the basin management plan report calls for FDEP to come back in five years and review nitrogen concentrations and measure how well projects are helping to reduce those levels. 

    “That’s for the five-year reviews to figure out,” she told the audience, made up mostly of local and state officials and environmentalists. “That’s the best answer I can give you right now.” 

    Whitey Markle, Suwannee/St. Johns Sierra Club conservation chairman, said five years was too long to wait. 

    “What I see is a slow moving machine not keeping up with (the rising level of nitrogen),” he said during the meeting. “Step it up.” 

    Bill Dunn is an environmental consultant, often for the St. Johns River Water Management District. He attended the meetingThursday and told the crowd that the effort to quantify the nitrogen loading into the spring is still new. The projects to clean the spring are moving the community in the right direction. 

    “We’re not going to get it all right,” he said during the meeting. “We want to get it mostly right.”


  • Wednesday, September 17, 2014 9:42 PM | Deleted user

    Ocala Star-Banner E-Edition Article


    Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, dedicates funding for environmental conservation by amending our state constitution. The money is sourced from Florida’s already existing excise tax on documents created when real estate is sold, known as the “documentary stamp tax.”

    Since 2009, funding for conservation purposes has decreased by more than 95 percent. Meanwhile, the degradation of our environment continues unstopped and unprotected. Amendment 1 ensures funding for the next 20 years from a reliable source.

    Amendment 1 secures onethird of documentary stamp income for the protection, restoration and conservation of Florida’s land, drinking water, beaches, rivers, lakes, streams and springs and the wildlife and vegetation in those habitats. The amount put aside for this amounts to less than 1 percent of Florida’s annual budget of more than $77 billion. An impartial analysis by the state’s Fiscal Impact Estimating Conference shows that unless the Legislature makes changes, the level of funding for nonconservation purposes will continue to grow, and the money will be deposited in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund and cannot be co-mingled with other state funds. While the Legislature must approve the appropriations, there are a number of existing, well-functioning programs already in place to select conservation projects based on objective criteria and sound science.

    Other facts to bear in mind: 72 percent of Florida’s land, 25 million acres, is privately owned. Approximately 1,000 new people move into Florida every day, straining our already declining natural systems. An additional two million acres have been identified as essential for conservation and protection of what brings people to Florida: beaches, rivers, wildlife, lakes and springs.

    While tourism is hugely important to our state, the well-being of future generations is even more important.

    Amendment 1 ensures the future of the environment for us. Vote “YES” on Amendment 1!

    Barbara Brandon Schwartz

    Ocala


  • Tuesday, September 16, 2014 12:23 PM | Deleted user

    Help on way for springs

    But is it enough?


    Published: Monday, September 15, 2014 at 7:24 p.m.
    Last Modified: Monday, September 15, 2014 at 7:24 p.m.

    Pollutants from septic tanks and unwanted nitrogen from out-of-date wastewater treatment plants are the target of a proposed $10 million project designed to better protect Silver Springs.

    The project is part of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s $69 million fund for springs projects and Gov. Rick Scott’s $30 million “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget.”

    The project was proposed by the St. Johns River Water Management District, whose board is slated to approve it during its final budget meeting Sept. 23.

    The project includes closing 850 septic tanks in the immediate Silver Springs springshed, decommissioning two northeast Ocala wastewater treatment package plants, and asking residents newly hooked up to Ocala’s wastewater treatment system and freshwater supply to voluntarily shut down their wells.

    One package plant serves about 75 customers; the other serves a commercial shopping plaza and restaurant.

    The water district predicts that shutting down the septic tanks and decommissioning the two package plants will reduce nitrogen loading into Silver Springs by about 23,000 pounds annually. A recent study estimates that nearly 470,000 pounds of nitrogen annually is loaded into the 10-year capture zone around Silver Springs.

    “We’re trying to target those (issues) closest to the springs that would benefit fastest the springs’ flow and water quality,” said Casey Fitzgerald, the water district’s Springs Protection Initiative director.

    Fitzgerald said the water district annually ranks various projects in terms of their prospects for reducing groundwater nitrogen in relation to the cost of the project.

    Page 2 of 3

    “And this (the plan up for approval) came to the top of a very strategic program,” Fitzgerald said.

    The water district will pay $2.5 million of the project’s costs, FDEP will pay another $2.5 million, and the city of Ocala will pay the remaining $5 million. The project is slated to begin next year, although the city is already meeting with the package plant owners about decommissioning.

    Fitzgerald said disconnecting the septic tanks will have an immediate positive impact. Advanced treatment plants reduce nitrogen in waste to 3.0 milligrams per liter, while septic tanks reduced the amount to only 60.0 mgl.

    Darryl Muse, Ocala’s utilities service manager, said the septic tank area being targeted is five miles in length around the spring.

    Although Florida law mandates that septic tank owners hook to municipal wastewater service when available, Ocala will not force the affected customers to do so. But it will offer the hook-up for free to those in the area who want it, Muse said.

    “At this point the city is not going to strong-arm anyone,” he said.

    Although there is a usage cost to using city wastewater treatment services, “there is a cost environmentally” not to, he said.

    “Someone is paying now in order to keep Silver Springs what it’s supposed to be,” he said.

    Some environmentalists think the project is too limited. They say Florida instead needs a long-term, funded, comprehensive plan to remove many more septic tanks statewide. Marion County has at least 50,000 septic tanks.

    “It’s not going to make as much difference as they anticipate, but it is a decent first step,” said environmentalist Guy Marwick.

    Page 3 of 3

    Marwick said the water district should take a broader view of nitrogen pollution. For example, while the water district works to close septic tanks, the agency is at the same time considering granting water permits to the new 30,000-acre farm and meat processing plant in Fort McCoy that will raise at least 6,000 cows.

    The farm is Sleepy Creek, formerly Adena Springs Ranch.

    Robert Knight, director of the nonprofit Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute and president of Wetland Solutions Inc. in Gainesville, said the project isn’t “much bang for the buck.”

    What nitrogen savings this project would bring about would easily be erased by the Sleepy Creek project and all the nitrogen from so many cows. He also said the projects the water district proposed for funding were not adequately vetted by independent third-party scientists.

    “The benefits are overstated ….This is a silly way to do government,” Knight said. “But it doesn’t mean we should discount (efforts to clean Silver Springs).”

    Reach Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@starbanner.com and 352-867-4157.


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