From the Orange County Board of Commissioners

During the morning session of the March 6th meeting of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, the first of three work sessions were held on the Wekiva Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP). Back at the January 9th meeting of the BCC, I had brought up the Wekiva BMAP as an open discussion item and expressed my concerns about the required nitrogen reduction plan and how those associated costs would be carried by the various stakeholders; changes to the Wekiva BMAP required by the 2016 Springs and Aquifer Protection Act will require major reductions in nitrogen loads. Following the Board’s discussion, Mayor Jacobs asked Orange County Environmental Protection Division (EPD) staff to schedule work sessions for the Board to discuss this issue at later dates.

The first work session provided an overview of the Wekiva BMAP, including its history and the requirement to update the BMAP by July 1, 2018, with a 20-year project plan for the stakeholders to collectively meet the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) by reducing total nitrogen loading to the basin. In addition, the presentation included an overview of the process and timeline for BMAP revision as established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP); review of the nitrogen sources; types of potential projects and their cost-effectiveness in nitrogen reduction; an overview of projects currently in the County’s Capital Improvement Plan; strategies that could potentially be implemented to increase nitrogen reduction in the basin; new legislation; and budget impacts.

The Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run are impaired for nutrients, specifically phosphorous and the nitrate form of nitrogen, as determined by FDEP in 2007 under the Total Maximum Daily Load Program; excess nitrogen causes an overabundance of algae.

For the Wekiva River Basin, the BMAP was initially adopted in 2015 and is currently undergoing revisions to reflect the changes required by the Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. Specifically, the Act: Creates a Priority Focus Area (PFA) Boundary; sets 5, 10, and 15-year milestone targets (for required reductions); requires a 100% reduction plan by year 15; requires treatment of septic loads, and requires an education plan. The major stakeholders for the original BMAP boundary in 2015 included the following: Orange (representing about 25% of the total acreage, 29% of the population), Seminole, and Lake Counties and Cities of Altamonte Springs, Apopka, Ocoee, Winter Garden, Orlando, and Maitland. Additionally, one of the new boundaries, the Wekiva Springshed Boundary, was created in 2016 to focus more on areas of influence to the groundwater; Orange County represents about 60% of the acreage in this area and about 39% of the population. Furthermore, the Wekiva Priority Focus Area serves as a targeted area for septic projects. Within this area, unincorporated Orange County has approximately 25,000 septic tanks.

The following nitrogen loading sources (to the groundwater) and the percentage of their impact have been identified: Septic systems (29%); urban fertilizer (26%); wastewater treatment facility (17%); farm fertilizer (11%); sports turf (7%); atmospheric deposition (6%); nurseries (3%); and livestock waste (1%). Orange County has a goal to reduce approximately 100,000 nitrogen loads (Ibs TN/yr), which is about half the basin (State’s reduction is about 209,000 Ibs TN in Basin). For its nitrate reduction strategies, Orange County currently has 5 project types: Wastewater; stormwater/MS4; land conservation; education; and septic. The responsibilities for these projects are shared by 3 County Departments: Community, Environmental and Development Services (CEDS); Public Works; and Utilities. In CEDS and Utilities, to date, there are currently no pending residential conversions from septic to sanitary for the County to submit for credit towards its nitrogen reduction goal. The range of costs for conversions can be from $28,000-$55,000 per household. One example of where this conversion has been done is Magnolia Park. Another example of projects that fall under septic is drainfield upgrades ($10,000-$25,000), where enhancement must meet or exceed the nitrogen removal rate approved by the Florida Department of Health (FDOH)/FDEP.

The Priority Focus Area requirements for septic includes a remediation plan for any BMAP where septic tanks contribute to more than 20% (Orange County contributes about 29%) of loading to an Outstanding Florida Spring. FDOH is the permitting authority, whereas expected, failure of existing septic systems will require residents to either upgrade the drainfield or connect to a sanitary system if available. In addition, new subdivisions will be required to install an enhanced drainfield or be subject to future conversions.

During the presentation, staff had emphasized how nitrogen load reductions would have a substantial impact on the budget. For example, when considering the conversion of septic to sewer, 500 reductions would reduce 10,000 Ibs at a cost of $28 million. Reductions will require a variety of strategies. Additionally, the aggressive TN reduction schedule mentioned in the presentation will require significant capital expenditures.

For the original Wekiva BMAP in 2015, there were 47 projects submitted at $80 million, with a 214,000 Ib TN/yr load reduction. To date, for FY 18-FY 22, about 41 projects have been submitted at $24 million, with an expected load reduction of over 3,300 Ib TN/yr (additionally required reductions are unknown until all stakeholders have reported). In addition, staff noted that additional projects may be needed by the July 1, 2018, deadline.

A community meeting has been tentatively scheduled for March 27th (location to be determined) that will give an overview of the BMAP from Orange County staff for residents who have septic tanks and will be affected by the BMAP district. The Wekiva Rock PFA, Wekiva Protection Area, Wekiva BMAP, and Wekiva Study area can be accessed here: file:///C:/Users/128851/Desktop/Wekivamap.pdf.

The second and third work sessions have been scheduled to take place on May 8, 2018, and June 19, 2018, respectively. At Work Session #2, gaps identified by FDEP in meeting overall goals, Wekiva BMAP changes, alternative strategies to meet the reduction requirements, budget impacts, and Board direction on short and long-term strategies are all topics expected to be brought up for discussion. The final work session, if needed, will focus on discussing the final BMAP requirements and budget requests for FY 18-19.

Residents who would like to watch the full presentation from the March 6th BCC Meeting may do so here: http://netapps.ocfl.net/Mod/meetings/1. In addition, for further reading on the Wekiva BMAP, residents can go to the following link: https://floridadep.gov/sites/default/files/Wekiva-BMAP.pdf.

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