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Water-Related News

St. Johns River group says laws OK credits for improvements already being done

By Bruce Ritchie

Some environmentalists say 2008 legislation that allows the trading of water quality credits along the St. Johns River is allowing Jacksonville to claim credit for projects that were being done by agencies anyway, according to The Florida Times-Union.

HB 547 in 2008 directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to create a pilot water quality trading program for the Lower St. Johns River basin, according to a House bill analysis.

On June 7, 2013, Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 713, which expands the trading program statewide. The bill also specifies that DEP may authorize water quality credit trading in adopted basin management action plans.

Last week, the St. Johns Riverkeeper group reported that water samples showed toxic algae levels at more than 50 times allowed by the World Health Organization.

The Times-Union reported that Jacksonville told DEP last month it planned to buy credits for removing 30.7 metric tons -- 67,000 pounds -- of nitrogen from the river by 2015.

“You’re using money to buy a credit for [pollution] reductions that have already been made. It’s not an addition,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman.

“We have major issues with nutrients and with bacteria. … We’re not going to move the needle if we use that [money] to buy water-quality trading credits.”

Bud Para, chief of public affairs for JEA, said the Jacksonville utility has spent $166 million since 2007 on treatment plant improvements.

Para said criticism of credit trades misses a main point. When his utility sells the credits to the city, the state will lower the discharges allowed under JEA’s permit by that same amount.

“Our permit will be changed. It’s very real,” Para said.