Tracy Marinello Cindy Noel OSFR OSFR President Pam Smith
Unfortunately sometimes everything happens at once. Today the Suwannee River Water Management Governing Board met in Live Oak, and a Sabal Trail protest took place in High Springs at the Duke Energy office, and the St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board met in Palatka
Since the latter meeting was scheduled to have on the agenda the next step in the consumptive use permits for Sleepy Creek, a large garthering was planned with a rally beforehand at the entrance of the district offices.
On Monday about noon, the permit was challenged by three environmental groups and one individual, which resulted in the item being pulled from the agenda. Knowing this before the meeting, the advocates continued with the protest and also attended the governing board meeting. where they were allowed to voice their concerns to the governing board and Executive Director Shortelle.
Approximately 25 organizations were represented at the group and about 125 people were present to urge denial of the permit. Since the permit was delayed, there will be another occasion to gather at this same place to discuss this permit before the board approves it.
The slow but constant decline and degradation of Silver Springs has been oft-commented on this website: we have about 30 posts or more dealing with this shameful exploitation by our ineffective water managers.
Bob Ulanowicz Mike Roth OSFR Jim Pruitt OSFR Tracy Marinello
Jill McGuire Jane Blaise OSFR
Marihelen Wheeler OSFR advisor Guy Marwick ex-Silver River Museum
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Water permit request pulled from SJRWMD agenda
Posted Jan 9, 2017 at 3:52 PM Updated Jan 9, 2017 at 8:12 PM
By Fred Hiers
The St. Johns River Water Management District on Monday pulled Sleepy Creek Land’s request to pump an additional 1.22 million gallons per day of groundwater in Marion County from the agenda for today’s board meeting, citing legal challenges to the application.
Four environmental activists filed a petition asking that the issue be turned over to a Florida Division of Administrative Hearing judge for review. The activists are St. Johns RiverKeeper, Florida Defenders of the Environment, Silver Springs Alliance and Marion County resident Alice Gardiner.
The petition asking for an administrative judge review automatically takes the request off the board’s agenda, said water district spokeswoman Danielle Spears. The judge will make a recommendation and then hand the application back to the water district board.
“This was the only way to contest the permit …; application. What’s the public to do …; nothing until the Silver Springs stops flowing?” asked Robert Knight, president of the Howard T. Odom Florida Springs Institute and a board member of the Silver Springs Alliance.
The legal challenge comes on the heels of a late December water district staff announcement that it is recommending that the district’s governing board approve the massive Marion County cattle operation additional water pumping rights. If approved, Sleepy Creek would be allotted a total of 2.68 million gallons per day from 2017-2023.
The recommendation attracted the ire of the environmental groups, doubly so because just two years prior, the water district staff had recommended the board deny Sleepy Creek a slightly more modest pumping request of 1.12 million gallons per day (mgd) for part of its 30,000-acre cattle operation.
Staffers said in late December their reversal was based on better computer modeling and more recent data, and that the additional withdrawal would have minimal impact on the Silver Springs and the Silver River.
But Knight on Monday said that the new modeling ignores staff’s own previous conclusion “by sweeping it under the rug” and was an effort to ramrod the board’s approval through before the public could mobilize.
“Where do they think the water is coming from?” Knight asked.
Environmentalists say the staff change of heart is a result of pressure from the wealthy applicant and political urging from higher ups.
At issue are two adjacent sod farms south of County Road 316 and east of County Road 315 in Fort McCoy.
In 2014, Sleepy Creek requested permission from the water district to pump an additional 1.12 mgd for its northern tract. District staffers recommended denial, noting that the withdrawal “would contribute to cumulative harm to the ecology of Silver Springs and the Silver River.”
On Oct. 3, Sleepy Creek asked staff to reconsider its request in light of the new and improved computer model program. Sleepy Creek also asked the district to consider an additional 0.14 mgd for the northern tract.
That’s when the district staffers changed their minds and recommended approval.
The petitioners filing for an administrative law judge review say in their filing that:
* The water district sent a copy of staff’s technical report and recommendations to Sleepy Creek Lands on Dec. 13, but didn’t post a copy on the district’s website until Dec. 28, four working days before any petition against the recommendation was due. When petitioners sought an extension, the district granted them only 2 1/2 days. The petitioners contend that the timeline restrictions was unfair and the public should have been given more time to review the report.
* The water district used groundwater computer modeling that contains proprietary codes that the general public doesn’t have access to; as a result, the public can’t adequately review staff’s modeling work.
* The administrative judge must decide whether the proprietary computer software used in the modeling “served only to thwart public accountability.” And at a cost of about $5,000 for the software, the judge must decide whether it effectively kept the public from reviewing staff’s modeling work and conclusions.
* The modeling, referred to as the Northern District 5 model, simulates several thousand square miles of groundwater movement and an error is too likely and its ramifications too great.
The petitioners conclude in the filings that “Sleepy Creek has failed to provide reasonable assurance that the proposed consumptive use of water, on a cumulative basis, is a reasonable and beneficial use given that this large scale scientific model cannot be used for this permitting decision.”
Knight said that reviewing the water district staff’s modeling work won’t be easy or inexpensive.
The plan is to raise money to hire experts to review the modeling calculations. The hope is that some qualified scientists will volunteer or charge a reduced rate. Knight said he will volunteer his time on the project.
The environmental groups filing the petition have scheduled a 10 a.m. rally today at the water district’s Palatka headquarters. They say they will continue the rally anyway and use the regularly scheduled meeting as an opportunity to voice their opinion on this issue and as the board reviews larger water issues.
– Reach Fred Hiers at [email protected] and 352-397-5914.