ALACHUA and NEWBERRY – Two local cities displayed reservations regarding the County’s proposed amendments to its stormwater regulations at their respective commission meetings Monday, Aug. 22.
The Alachua City Commission heard an extended presentation from engineering consultant Rory Causseax of Causseax, Hewett and Walpole (CHW) that highlighted many issues CHW had with the County’s proposed Advanced Stormwater Treatment Design Manual, while the Newberry City Commission unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the suggested changes.
“I’m happy to support our resolution along with nine other city managers within the County,” said Newberry Commissioner Tim Marden. “I believe when the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] came to us before, there certainly was no negligible difference and impact on the stormwater…and I pointed out the fact that this only had to do with development and controlling development and controlling growth and had nothing to do with water.”
According to Causseax’s presentation in Alachua, the County’s stated purpose in proposing new stormwater requirements is in response to studies that have reported that current stormwater treatment requirements are insufficient in protecting groundwater from rising nitrogen levels.
High nitrogen levels directly impact water quality and can lead to overgrowth of algae.
“If there’s truth that nitrogen entering the groundwater shows up in a spring,” said Causseax, “then really the regulations we’re heading to now [state] we need to remove nitrogen to a level 25 times higher than is in the current regulations.”
Causseax noted, however, that the source of 73 percent of nitrogen found in the Santa Fe River stems from agriculture, such as with the use of fertilizer and presence of animal waste. Of the remaining nitrogen, 17 percent comes from septic tanks, nine percent from land development and only one percent from wastewater treatment plants.
“I make these points because really, the regulations the County is looking to propose regulate development,” Causseax said. “They do not regulate agriculture – agriculture is above that level of legislation – and they are not specifically regulating wastewater, as well. So the regulation that’s in play regulates what now is nine percent of the nitrogen loading to the Santa Fe River.”
Causseax also stated that the County’s proposals would impact even less than the nine percent of nitrogen coming from developments, as the proposals would not reduce nitrogen from existing developments but only impact new developments or redevelopment of existing sites.
Causseax said that, even despite the small amount of nitrogen that would be removed under the proposed County regulations, everyone wants clean water, but the cost of the County proposals was prohibitive. As a specific example, he stated that reduction of nitrogen from agricultural sources – if enforced by the State – would cost $1.03 per pound removed, while the County’s proposals would cost $4,989 per pound removed if applied to a Dollar General site located off Archer Road or $6,391 per pound removed if applied to the Oakmont Phase 2 development.
“What would be the effect if all new development in Alachua County fell under this regulation?” Causseax asked. “We might move the needle 1 percent, 2 percent. That’s moving in the right direction, but it’s not moving very fast, and if it were cost effective, one might could get behind it, but the exorbitant amount of cost makes it hard to understand that this is the only way we can get cleaner water.”
Alachua commissioners echoed Causseax’s concerns, as well as those mentioned by Newberry Commissioner Marden.
“It seems they’re [the County Commission] trying to rush this through quite a bit without the full knowledge of what this actually means,” said Mayor Gib Coerper. “We met with the new Suwannee River Water Management head, Mr. Noah, and I asked him the specific question if they were on board with this…and he said “No, not at all.”
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