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Appeal court says state must do more to clean Florida’s polluted springs

"This allows us to hold polluters accountable," Ryan Smart of the Florida Springs Council said after Wednesday's ruling.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Environmentalists working to reduce nitrate pollution in Florida’s freshwater springs declared victory Wednesday after the First District Court of Appeal ruled the Florida Department of Environmental Protection must take more action to clean the springs across the state.

"This is the biggest legal win for Florida’s environment in recent memory," Ryan Smart, executive director of the Florida Springs Council, said. "This decision will have major implications on the Outstanding Florida Springs."

Wednesday’s ruling says DEP must be more specific in its BMAPs, or Basin Management Action Plans, on how it will reduce nitrate pollution in some of the state's springs and waterways. Pollution from nitrates is currently one of the biggest threats to the state’s freshwater springs.

"What the First DCA ruled was that the Department of Environmental Protection did not follow the law when creating the Basin Management Action plans for four Outstanding Florida Springs," said Smart. "The law requires them to allocate the pollutant load, which is a fancy way of saying you have to say who's responsible for achieving the reductions necessary to hit the water quality goal."

The legal battle against FDEP began in 2019, when environmental groups challenged the agency in court over its BMAP plans, claiming they were ineffective. However, a judge ruled in DEP’s favor.

Wednesday’s decision reverses the previous ruling.

"This allows us to hold polluters accountable," Smart said.

DEP has stated its BMAPs are effective. 10 Investigates reached out to FDEP for comment on this ruling and is waiting to hear back. A spokesperson previously told 10 Investigates:

"The state of Florida has made an unprecedented financial commitment to springs restoration, funding $300 million over the last four years specifically for springs restoration. This record funding has enabled the department to assist local governments and other stakeholders to identify and construct projects that are imperative to achieving restoration goals. Much has been done to date; however, there is more work to be done for springs restoration and long-term protection, particularly with agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs). The department will continue to work diligently alongside the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to increase BMP compliance and enhance our understanding of application rates across the state and impacts to waterways."

Emerald Morrow is an investigative reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10tampabay.com.

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