Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee held a contentious, three-hour meeting on Wednesday, March 2 reviewing the environmental chapter of the village’s code. In the end, the board continued the item to April 6 to finish reviewing the document.
The environmental portion is a small part of the code of ordinances under review, but meaningful and important to the equestrian community, which is subject to rules that several members of the committee believe holds horse owners to an unfair standard.
Florida Agricultural Water Policy Director Chris Pettit, who was attending the meeting remotely, said the village has a legal obligation to observe the state’s laws on best management practices, which the village has attempted to follow by enacting revised codes.
Director of Strategic Planning Michael O’Dell pointed out that the Wellington Village Council on Jan. 25 had approved the first reading of the village’s environmental chapter of the code of ordinances and directed that the Equestrian Preserve Committee again review the best management practices for livestock waste and fertilizer management.
O’Dell said that Wellington’s best management practices rules began nearly 20 years ago after the state’s approval of the Everglades Forever Act. The village responded by creating Section 24, a 365-acre rainwater storage area also known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Environmental Preserve off of Flying Cow Road.
Robert Higgins, owner of Higgins Engineering, which performed the original modeling for water control structures in Wellington, said the Everglades Forever Act set standards for discharge of all water into the Everglades for phosphorus at 50 parts per billion.
At the time, Wellington was divided into two parts for water discharge. Basin A, north of Pierson Road, discharged into the C-51 Canal, and Basin B, south of Pierson Road, discharged directly into part of the Everglades.
Higgins said that at considerable cost to Wellington and the South Florida Water Management District, Basin B was “replumbed” so that the water ran north through Basin A and Section 24 into the C-51 Canal and into SFWMD’s stormwater treatment area.
“Water today that’s discharged into the C-51 does, on average, meet the requirement of 50 parts per billion,” he said. “It’s a job well done. It took many years.”
Included in the changes was a series of rules that mandate proper handling of livestock waste in Wellington’s equestrian areas. While manure and fertilizer have both been pointed to as sources of phosphorus contamination, many equestrians have questioned how significant manure is to that equation.
Equestrian Committee Chair Jane Cleveland said that although the committee had technically reviewed the environmental chapter of the code of ordinances in November prior to the council approving on first reading, the council was adamant that it come back to the council for further review.
Committee Member Annabelle Garrett asked rhetorically if anyone has done a study whether the phosphorus in the water is coming from manure or from fertilizer.
“The answer is no,” she said. “It’s very easy to point fingers at the equestrian community.”
She said that there is a $20 million lawsuit coming back to the village, which is why the review is sitting before the committee again.
O’Dell said that the village does monthly water quality sampling and meets the permit requirements for discharge, adding that discharge from Basin B has improved.
“There has been an improvement in the amount of phosphorus in the water that’s been discharging into Basin A,” O’Dell said. “The good news is that we, on an average basis, meet our permit requirements.”
He added that the village has data showing where phosphorus hotspots are in the village.
Higgins said Section 24 is a polishing pond that helps in reducing the phosphorus levels from Basin B, which is discharged to the C-51 and the stormwater treatment area for further treatment. “The cooperative agreement outlined between Wellington and the South Florida Water Management District had a requirement for implementing best management practices and the route to achieve the 50 parts per billion,” Higgins said.
Planning, Zoning & Building Director Tim Stillings pointed out that the equestrian BMPs were a small part of the overall village code under review.
Village Manager Jim Barnes said that if the committee wanted to recommend no BMPs, it could.
“Ultimately, the goal tonight is to get this board’s recommendations on BMPs,” Barnes said. “If the recommendation is, ‘We don’t need BMPs,’ that’s fine. We, as a staff, have recommended BMPs as necessary as we have proposed to the council, but whatever disagreement there is, we need to get this board’s recommendation.”
Committee Member Dr. Kristy Lund recommended that horse wash drain systems be removed from the list of definitions.
On a motion from Garrett, the committee removed a requirement that livestock waste must be placed in “water-tight” containers, contending that the concrete containers will crack over time from equipment traveling over the container.
Garrett added that the BMPs should also apply to cattle and other livestock and not just to horses.
The committee ran out of time to consider all the items on the list because several members had to leave. They will continue reviewing the document on April 6.