February 7, 2013

FDEP says the Suwannee is impaired

February 7, 2013 Joyce Marie Taylor Suwannee Democrat

Mayo — Terry Hansen from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) presented the Lafayette County Board of County Commissioners with an overview of the Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) for the Suwannee River recently.

His objective, he said, was to explain what the BMAP is, what an impaired river is, and what actions government, citizens and businesses need to take with regard to section 403.067 of the Florida Statutes known as the Florida Watershed Restoration Act.

Hansen said, “We just recently did a BMAP for the Santa Fe River Basin.”

The Suwannee, he said, is affected by about the same amount of acreage as the Santa Fe, which is around one million acres.

“For Lafayette, the entire county is not included in it,” he said. “It’s really the area that drains to the Suwannee River. It’s sort of the eastern third of the county.”

The problem with the Suwannee River, Hansen said, is that it is not a surface water drainage basin. All the rainfall and runoff infiltrates, goes into the ground, hits the karstic subterrain and ends up in the river.

“That’s one of the things that you can’t really control because it’s all non-point source runoff,” he said. “In other words, there’s not a wastewater plant with a pipe that’s discharging out somewhere that you can say, okay, your treatment system has to meet this sort of a discharge.”

The Clean Water Act, Hansen said, started the process of analyzing a body of water that is not meeting its intended usage, e.g. swimmable, fishable or drinking water. The Suwannee, he said, has been labeled an impaired river.

“We do repetitive sampling throughout most of the bodies of water in the state of Florida,” he said.

By doing so, they are building up a database of information for comparison. For the Suwannee, he said, there are excessive nutrients that have ended up in the springs and are causing algae mats. The algae, he said, is not normal, not supposed to be there, is bad for tourism, bad for the flora and fauna, and can lead to toxic blooms.

The goal of BMAP, he continued, is to determine what to do in order to restore the river back to a better state of being.

The Suwannee is heavily used for fishing, swimming and boating, and the springs are used a lot by residents and tourists, he went on.

“It’s an economic boon to the area,” he said.

Since the Suwannee has been labeled an impaired river by the FDEP, Hansen said it will have adverse effects on the quality of life for those who live along the river.

“The process for reducing nutrients is not simple,” he said.

The reason it is so difficult, Hansen explained, is because there are no point sources. Water that runs off into the river comes from agriculture entities, fertilization of yards, septic tanks, farm animal and pet waste.

“There is no one, single thing that you can point at and say, if we do this, the river will achieve its designated use,” he said.

What the FDEP strives to do, he went on, is to get water bodies into shape so that they are useable by everyone and have water quality that meets state standards.

Restoration plan actions, he continued, are to implement best management practices by agricultural producers that include using the correct amount of fertilizer for crops to help reduce the nutrients that run off into the river.

The FDEP will narrow down one specific area, typically a spring shed, and monitor it to see if what they have asked people to do, as far as best management practices, has helped the situation.

Local governments, he said, can help by keeping their citizens informed and educated about water issues and conservation, and work cooperatively with Suwannee River Water Management District. Business owners and citizens can help by following proper septic tank maintenance, implementing Florida-friendly yards, and properly disposing of pet waste.

When asked about the proper way to dispose of pet waste, Hansen said, for dogs, people should make sure the waste isn’t in an area where it can directly degrade and run off into the river.

“I’m not an expert on that, but probably the best thing to do is bury it,” said Hansen.

When asked how to properly dispose of cat litter, Hansen said he really didn’t know.

“I’ve got cats,” he said. “We just bag it up and throw it into the trash, but I live in the city. It just goes to the landfill and it infiltrates into the concentration.”

Commissioner Donnie Hamlin said he was raised along the river and has seen the mulch (algae) come and go many times over the years. Nature, he said, has her own way of doing things. He also reminded Hansen that the area has been in a long term drought.

“When the river is down low and it gets cleared, the mulch grows,” said Hamlin. “Then when the river floods and backs up into the springs, all that mulch dies and it’s all slushed out.”

An audience member interjected, “The manatee loves that moss. They eat it when the river gets low.”

“Y’all need to figure nature’s way of working this thing through and not be so quick to blame it on something else,” said Hamlin.

“You’re not completely wrong there, sir,” said Hansen.

 

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