Springs rally at Capitol attracts about 400

Springs rally coordinator Jim Stevenson prepares to introduce Rep. Alan Williams as the Creature from the Black Lagoon looks on.

The upcoming legislative session will be crucial to winning passage of springs legislation, speakers on Tuesday told a crowd of more than 400 at a springs rally outside the state Capitol.

Springs across the state have become choked with weeds and algae as nitrogen in groundwater has increased. But legislation that would either create pilot programs or regulate the release of nitrogen from farms, septic tanks and stormwater have failed during the last five legislative sessions.

Residents came by bus from Gainesville, Ocala and the Dunnellon area for the rally and school children relayed a bottle of Wakulla Springs water 17 miles from the state park to the Capitol. Audience members held signs for springs elsewhere around the state: Sun, Manatee, Hornsby, Troy and Three Sisters, to name a few. A costumed Creature from the Black Lagoon from the 1954 movie filmed at Wakulla Springs State Park was on hand.

Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, is expected to introduce springs legislation again this year after his bill last year failed to receive a vote in the Senate.

Constantine, who will leave the Senate this year because of term limits, told the crowd, “This is the year, as somebody yelled out in the audience, that we have to do something.”

“There is no question,” he said, “if we don’t do it this year we might have gone too far in devastating the natural resource that is our springs. We have to do it in a way that balances both our environment and economic opportunities in Florida. We can do it.”

He is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation.

The crowd cheered as senators and representatives vowed to support springs. But cheers for Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, turned to some jeers when he criticized a proposed federal rule that would set limits for nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waterways.

Environmental groups sued to force the EPA to set limits, with the state and federal agencies saying that specific limits were needed to protect springs and other waterways. But industry and agriculture groups and utilities say the standards are based on flawed science and will be costly to try to meet.

Bembry, whose district includes many of Florida’s largest springs along the Suwannee River, said farmers are working to help protect groundwater. But he drew jeers when he said reducing nitrogen and phosphorus could harm commercial fishing — without explaining how that could happen.

“This is not the time for single-issue politics, nor private agendas, nor is it a time for political partisanship,” Bembry said. “We all as Floridians have too much at risk for those kinds of issues. It is time for good, solid, fiscally-responsible solutions that are based on scientific information that has been tested and proven to be valid.”

(Photos and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)