SOS NOW Petitions Court to Compel Vinyard Response on Rule Legality

For more information please contact:

For further information, contact:
Dan Hilliard
Co-Chair SOS NOW Steering Committee
Phone: (352) 447-5434

For Immediate Release: October 23, 2014

A coalition of nonprofit organizations and private individuals, collectively SOS NOW, has found itself needing to file a court action to compel Herschel Vinyard, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), to do his job. The action was necessitated because Secretary Vinyard has failed to provide a response to evidence and arguments presented at a statutorily required FDEP hearing held over a year ago.

Back on September 10, 2013, a hearing was held to address the legality of Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs) adopted by the Southwest Florida Water Management District for the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa Rivers. The proposed MFLs explicitly allow further degradation of the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa River ecosystems. Chassahowitzka and Homosassa are both Outstanding Florida Waters (OFWs) and, by law, FDEP must provide OFWs “the highest protection” and allow “no degradation of water quality.” (62-302.700(1) F.A.C.) FDEP and Vinyard are supposed to rule on the OFW MFLs’ consistency with Florida water law and policies, but Vinyard has failed to do so for over a year.

The September 10, 2013 hearing was attended by citizens from throughout the state who were concerned with FDEP’s continued failure to protect our most treasured and statutorily protected waters from degradation. Many of those who attended provided testimony on the existing degradation of OFWs in their part of the state.

The weight of testimony provided at that hearing supported SOS NOW’s contentions that the state’s approach to OFW MFLs was in direct violation of several provisions of Florida law which proscribe degradation of OFWs and require protection of natural systems. District officials defended their action on the basis that MFLs are water supply planning rules that guide how much water can be used, and they can allow degradation in water supply planning. In other words, they say the “no degradation” promise does not apply to them.

“It is obvious that FDEP’s policies have failed to adequately protect our Outstanding Florida Waters,” said Brad Rimbey, spokesman for the Chassahowitzka River Restoration Committee. “Many OFW’s are now on FDEP’s impaired waters list due to the combined effects of nitrate pollution and reduced flow. Resolution of this matter is of utmost importance to all Floridians and FDEP‘s failure to respond in over a year is simply unacceptable.”

SOS NOW (Save Our Springs, Natures Original Wealth) was formed in 2012. Member organizations are Chassahowitzka River Restoration Committee, Homosassa River Alliance, Withlacoochee Area Residents, Rainbow River Conservation, and Save the Manatee Club.

St. Petersburg attorney John R. Thomas, Esq. and Gainesville attorney Marcy I. LaHart, Esq. filed the action on behalf of SOS NOW.

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