Florida’s BMAPs (Basin Management Action Plans) are supposed to provide a framework for cleaning up the state’s most beleaguered waterways. They detail local and state commitments to reduce pollutant loading. Broken down by watersheds around the state, they contain proposed solutions, including permit limits on wastewater facilities, urban and agricultural “best management practices” and conservation programs designed to achieve pollutant reductions established by a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

But a 2022 investigation by TCPalm deduced the program wasn’t working. Why not?

The chart above, featured in the latest Deep Dive from our friends at VoteWater, helps to explain it. 

Total phosphorus and total nitrogen loading into nine separate sub-watersheds making up the Lake Okeechobee BMAP is broken down by source. In seven of the nine sub-watersheds, agriculture is the leading polluter. 

This issue is inflamed by a “presumption of compliance” policy offered to agricultural producers who adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) — a practice that presumes pollution reduction goals are being met by those enrolled without any verification by regulators. Those projected numbers are then incorporated into the calculations that regulators use to report the effectiveness of a particular BMAP. If that strikes you as questionable — or even dishonest — we’d have to agree. 

This is just one example. The problem persists in many other BMAPs. VoteWater’s Deep Dive further breaks down the truth behind Florida’s biggest polluters in watersheds across the state. 

VoteWater’s takeaway: “Any honest assessment of the state’s BMAP data, particularly for the plans pertaining to the Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee basins, can only come to one conclusion: 

In many basins, the biggest source of pollution is agriculture — in many cases, by a mile.”

Florida must crack down on its biggest polluters. Without accurate and enforceable pollution limits to guide regulation, we can’t hope to paint an accurate picture of what’s plaguing our waterways, much less solve it.