In 2016, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Springs Protection Act. The act called for the creation of Basin Management Action Plans for major springshed systems in the state. Each BMAP is created by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection with input from local governments. The purpose of the BMAP is to create a roadmap for “Total Maximum Daily Load” or TMDL pollutant reduction. The main pollutant of concern for the Weeki Wachee Springshed is nitrates and one of the major sources they found to contribute to groundwater nitrates is septic systems.
The Weeki Wachee BMAP is being established and our local governments have already begun and completed projects on the preliminary BMAP. Kevin Coyne with the FDEP estimates that the Weeki Wachee BMAP will be complete by June as the July deadline for all BMAP adoptions is fast approaching.
The following statement appears on FDEP website:
“These broad-based plans are developed with local stakeholders - they rely on local input and local commitment - and they are adopted by Secretarial Order to be enforceable.”
The Hernando Sun has reached out to the FDEP in regards to what enforceable specifically refers to. If projects listed on the BMAP must be completed, then who is penalized and what penalties are incurred, if the projects are not completed?
One of the projects listed on the BMAP for the Weeki Wachee Springshed is the $240,000 Septic to Sewer conversion study- which has been completed. The study by Coastal Engineering, looks at the feasibility of converting 32,000 properties in the Weeki Wachee Springshed from septic to sewer in 19 districts (A-S). The total price of doing so, is estimated around $700 million.
District A and B septic to sewer conversions from the conversion study have made it onto the preliminary BMAP. Districts A and B are located just north of Weeki Wachee Springs. The price for completing both conversions is $48 million. There are 900 septic systems to convert in District A and 1,310 septic systems to convert in District B.
It looks like the county could be vested $5 million into the first phase of sewer conversions for District A. District A Phase 1 of septic to sewer conversion was on the Application for Southwest Florida Water Management District Cooperative Funding Initiative and Priority Ranking Letter for 2019. The BOCC approved that in Sept. 2017- if funding is available they will match the cost with the Southwest Florida Water Management District ($5 million match). Phase 2 is projected to cost another $10 million. Phase 1 and 2 of District B conversions are projected to cost $14 million each.
The FDEP is utilizing Nitrogen Source Inventory and Loading Estimates “in the BMAP development process to identify source categories and areas where nitrogen source reduction efforts could be focused to achieve the most beneficial effects on water quality for Weeki Wachee Spring and Weeki Wachee River.”
They have found that Livestock waste is the main source of total nitrogen onto the land surface at 24% followed by farm fertilizer (22 %), atmospheric deposition (21 %), urban turfgrass fertilizer (15 %), septic systems (12 %), sports turfgrass fertilizer (4 %) and WWTFs (1 %).
However, their studies found that the “highest estimated nitrogen loads in the groundwater contributing area to Weeki Wachee Spring are from septic systems (30 %), followed by urban turfgrass fertilizer (22 %) and farm fertilizers (17 %). Sources contributing smaller amounts of nitrogen include atmospheric deposition (10 %), livestock waste (10 %), sport turfgrass fertilizer (6 %), and WWTFs (5 %).”
Offering explanations for the difference in source percentages between land surface and groundwater, FDEP remarks, “Although the overall nitrogen load applied to land surface is reduced by natural processes, the percent contribution from septic tanks reaching the groundwater surface is higher when compared to land surface percentages due to the lesser natural treatment attributes of onsite systems.”
Rep. Blaise Ingoglia has expressed concern about the septic to sewer conversions.
“I have a number of concerns with the law, especially in regards to the implementation, the cost to comply, and the lack of scientific evidence that the law is based on. This law is effectively a huge billion dollar mandate with no dedicated funding source to pay for it. My fear is it will fall on the backs of unsuspecting homeowners in the form of huge tax increases. It’s ‘Government Gone Wild’ and I will continue to fight for better outcomes for Hernando County residents.,” commented Rep. Ingoglia.
He questions the science behind the TMDL reduction requirements, explaining, “There was a study done by the University of Florida (IFAS) in conjunction with the St. Johns Water Management District within the past couple of months. Basically, their conclusion was that water flow was more to blame for the higher concentration of nitrate levels in the springs. And, while still recognizing that nitrates are a pollutant and that reducing nitrate delivery would show overall benefits, there was no scientific evidence that a reduction of nitrates would restore the springs and springs water clarity and quality. The science is simply inconclusive.”
The following septic to sewer conversion projects are listed on the BMAP for the City of Brooksville:
Connect approximately 75 septic systems to central sewer system- planned for 2019- with cost estimate of $1.4 million and funding source of City/DEP.
Connect approximately 300 septic systems to central sewer system - planned for 2027- estimated cost of $6 million and funding source of City/DEP/Other.
A Pine Island Park Septic to Sewer conversion of 90 septics is planned for 2018- with an estimated cost of $2.1 million to be funded by the county and DEP.
The BMAP contains many other methods of reducing the nitrate load of groundwater- including street sweeping, public outreach, retrofitting drainage retention areas with biosorption activated media, stormwater pond construction to treat runoff, the US 19 Reclaimed water project for Timber Pines, demolishing the Berkeley Manor Water Treatment Facility and rerouting to the Airport Wastewater Treatment Facility to achieve better nitrogen removal, Decommissioning the Spring Hill WTF and diverting flow to other facilities (projected to cost $11 million and is all county funded- planned for 2019), Expanding the Airport WWTF (planned for 2020 - cost $35 million- funded by County and DEP).