The city's southeast spray field has been hailed as an innovative way of treating waste water. The spray field crops absorb nutrients from the treated water which lowers the amount going into ground water, but it's the other stuff going on the crops raising concern.
It's not that the cows are on the southeast spray field, it's what they leave behind that's causing concern. Some clean water advocates think cow waste from the spray field, along with fertilizer, is contributing to rising nitrate levels in Wakulla Springs.
Michelle Bono with the City of Tallahassee says, "The rationale of having cows on the property is that the cows eat the crops, the crops then grow more and they take up more nitrates."
Bono says the city doesn't know for a scientific fact if the cows are part of the nitrate problem, however, to ease concern the city announced it will remove the cows and stop fertilization on the spray field crops by June.
"We recognize this is a concern and we're going to eliminate that as a concern."
The spray fields are already undergoing scientific studies to find out what happens to the nitrates from the field and what some of the other contributing factors may be, like septic tanks to the springs.
Wakulla County Commissioner Howard Kessler says he's encouraged by the city's move.
Howard says, "The time is now, the clock is ticking, I think we realize gathering science is important, but doing something about it also is important."
Kessler says he'd like to see the June timeline set in stone in the final permitting process with the Department of Environmental Protection.
The city is seeking a new DEP permit for the spray field.
Michelle Bono says the existing DEP permit expired in 2004, and the new permit would require a phasing out of the cows and fertilizer over a three-year period. The city is hoping to put that issue to rest this year.
If reports show the cattle actually help reduce nitrate levels as originally intended, the city says it will try to bring the cows back to the fields. Results from the scientific studies are due back by the end of the year.