TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Florida Water Management Districts have identified 40 springs projects that will receive $50 million as part of the 2017-2018 state budget. While none of the 40 projects appear to be in Hernando County, there are projects in neighboring counties that have been funded. Hernando County did receive a $400,000 allocation for a Weeki Wachee River channel restoration project which does not seem to be part of 40 projects.
Governor Scott said, “Florida is home to some of the most beautiful springs in the world, and protecting these natural treasures is incredibly important for our state’s families, environment and economy. Last year, I was proud to sign the Legacy Florida bill to establish a dedicated funding source for springs protection and I am glad that investment is continuing with $50 million for springs restoration projects across the state this year. Springs protection will remain a priority so that Florida’s future generations will continue to enjoy these unique natural treasures.”
DEP works with water management districts to identify projects that will improve the quality of Florida springs and provide a good return on investment. Many of these projects include matching funds from various local partners.
As part of these springs projects, the state is launching three new Springs Protection Land Acquisition Initiatives, with a total of more than $6 million allocated for land acquisitions to protect Wakulla Springs, Econfina Springs and springs along the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers. An additional $2.5 million will be allocated toward a conservation easement that will ensure land protection and nutrient reduction benefits for De Leon Spring.
Other restoration and protection projects that have been identified for funding this fiscal year will enhance water quality through wastewater, stormwater and runoff pollution control projects, including septic tank conversion and agricultural partnerships. Projects to expand water reuse and improve aquifer recharge rates will also help ensure the protection of Florida’s groundwater supply.
Among the 40 statewide projects, in the near vicinity to Hernando County are the following projects;
Southwest Florida Water Management District: Kings Bay (Citrus County) sewer extension and reuse project – This project will improve water quality in Kings Bay by supporting the construction of a sewer main extension to remove septic systems and route 2 million gallons per day of reclaimed water out of the springshed.
Just south of Hernando County, an infrastructure construction project for Crews Lake Natural Systems was funded “to provide reclaimed water to restore approximately 200 acres of wetlands in and adjacent to Crews Lake.” It is anticipated to reduce nitrogen by 53,272 lbs per year. The state is contributing $4,248,885; the WMD Match is $2,124,442; the Local Match: $2,124,443; Total Funding for the FY is $8,497,770.
Of the $50 million, approximately $13 million will be granted for septic/sewer conversion projects. The state is pushing septic to sewer conversions within the Weeki Wachee springshed, but there does not appear to be funding for the conversions in this go round of allocations. An estimated 32,000 properties lie within the springshed that potentially have septic systems. If all of these properties were converted to sewer, this would incur an estimated $700,000 million bill. To put this into further perspective, since Governor Scott took office, roughly $365 million has been invested in Florida’s springs, the highest amount of funding in Florida’s history.
The county did receive $400,000 in funding for design and permitting of the the Weeki Wachee River Channel Restoration Project which is part of the SWFWMD Weeki Wachee SWIM Plan.
The funding has been approved and the Southwest Florida Water Management District is working to secure a consulting firm to begin feasibility and design on October 1, 2017.
The restoration project aims to:
• Improve fish and wildlife quality by “Preservation and enhancement of submerged aquatic vegetation and benthic habitat” and the “Monitoring of areas at and downstream of restoration improvements.”
• Improve navigability by deepening the channel.
• Improve surface water quality by reduction of sediment and muck suspension. There will be areas monitored at and downstream of restoration improvements.
The Channel Restoration project does not appear to be part of the $50 million in Legacy Florida funding for springs restoration projects.