On Dec. 27, 2015 the Bradenton Times published an article by John Rehill on aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells in Florida. ASR wells basically are used to inject surface water into the aquifer for storage and is intended to be withdrawn for use at a later time. Many of these practices are experimental in nature and have not been proven over time that they will not harm our aquifer. Since Florida’s aquifer is considered “sole source,” a mistake by these people could cause our only source of water to be damaged, a risk many do not want to take.
Best of 2015: ASR Wells are Full of Empty Promises
|John Rehill•Sunday, Dec 27, 2015|
Billions of environmental dollars are on their way to be flushed down into the ground with the dry-cleaning fluid, surface-water, wastewater and reverse-osmosis brine. Officials will tell us that there, deep beneath our feet, the people have an investment which will grow in the form of a water reservoir, hedging the cost for future water shortages. But it’s more about funneling funds than culling water; more about bracing for skyrocketing water fees than a cost-saving solution.
The plan reads like a novel set in a parallel universe, half fiction, half figment, unprincipled and corrupt; it’s a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) scheme that’s based on a hoax.
The hoax is that drilling high volume ASR (Aquifer Storage and Recovery) wells to pump surface water contaminated with high levels of phosphorus into the aquifer, will reduce the chance of losing our natural water resources.
What’s at risk? Contaminating those groundwater resources for an estimated 12 million Floridans and possibly limiting our choices to only expensive alternative water sources.
On December 16, 2014, the FDEP issued a press release stating the state agency adopted a restoration plan for Lake Okeechobee. It’s a 10-year, $750 million state-funded project to reduce phosphorus entering the lake.
But questions about the role regulatory agencies have and will play, and the methods by which these goals will be obtained, are only supported by smoke and mirrors, as well as a conflict of interest.
The public is being conned into believing that drilling hundreds of ASR wells, and using them to pump billions of gallons of surface water into the aquifer, is a smart, safe and cost effective method to reduce phosphorus entering Lake Okeechobee.
In support of the ASR System, the Army Corp of Engineers (Corps) recently contracted the National Research Council (“NRC”) to create an “ASR Committee” that will review the Corps final “Technical Data Report” (TDR) which purports to be an “Aquifer Storage and Recovery Regional Study.”
The ASR Regional Study was designed to address technical, scientific, engineering and environmental questions concerning the feasibility of implementing ASR wells in central and south Florida.
The TDR is currently being evaluated, and the findings will be documented in the ASR Regional Study. The findings, which are scheduled to be published by early April of this year, are expected to be in support of ASR systems and will be used to support future ASR decisions.
The FDEP and Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) are in the final stages of expediting ASR systems that will deposit surface water and toxic substances into the aquifer throughout central and southern Florida. SWFWMD is the sponsor of the Corps TDR project.
Prior to the FDEP press release adopting the 10-year plan, the NRC/ASR Committee attended a ACOE meeting in Jacksonville on December 11, 2014, to study a restoration and ground watering model for the Florida aquifer system. “The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the technical aspects of the report, and it was not a meeting to solicit stakeholder input or public comment,” said Stacey Lomax, Investigative Operations Assistant for the ACOE.
The Final Technical Groundwater Model Project (FTGMP) used to conclude that “large capacity ASR systems can be built and operated in south Florida,” is part of the TDR. But much of the data is believed to be from an Areawide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) prepared for Phosphate Mining operations.
That AEIS was performed by the engineering firm CH2MHill, and highly contested by critics for incorrect content and obvious conflicts of interest.
In a separate AEIS that CH2MHill produced for DUKE Energy’s proposed Crystal River nuclear power plant, much of the ground water modeling data was terribly flawed as well, and one of the critical reasons the plant is not scheduled to be built today.
Ecology Party of Florida Inc. has retained REINER & REINER, P.A. to review and submit comments on their behalf to the role of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), regarding many of the inaccuracies and the overwhelming conflict of interest surrounding NRC’s ASR Committee reviewing the final TDR.
The 1970 NEPA Act was one of the first laws ever written that establishes the broad national framework for protecting our environment. NEPA’s basic policy is to assure that all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that significantly affects the environment.
It is no surprise that the ACOE often lowers the bar for special interest approvals, but to get a no-foul from NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) with them knowing the data has inaccuracies, at best appears negligent.
The Reiner and Reiner comment letters point out:
- The NEPA Act establishes national environmental policy and goals for the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of the environment and provides a process for implementing these goals within the federal agencies. The Act also establishes the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
- It is unfortunate the Council of Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) regulations eliminated previous distinctions between “major” and “minor” federal actions, primarily predicated upon the extent of federal funding, and instead focused on the degree of environmental impact. This narrowed the test to the single criterion of significance, but if the action is significant, it requires the preparation of an AEIS.
Those in opposition to the ASR Systems believe the FDEP is taking this path to navigate around federal oversight that might reveal the many negative environmental effects that can’t be avoided, when installing ASR systems.
The possibility of bodily harm dictates NEPA participation, and critics also argue that the project already is operating with the use of more federal funds then it credits. If both are true, the project does have qualifying criteria that dictates a independent AEIS.
The ACOE’s “FTGMP” is part of the TDR, and experts claim that because the data is flawed, it is impossible for the NRC’s FL ASR Review Committee to properly evaluate the TDR.
The FTGMP is critical to evaluation, permitting, monitoring and determination of compliance for all aquifer injections and withdrawals; and for mining actions as well, yet only require permitting from FDEP and SWFWMD, and no action from the Corps.
One has to wonder: why would SWFWMD contract the ACOE, the ACOE contract the NRC to contract the ASR Committee, to then supply a report for a FDEP/SWFWMD project?
Even more troubling is the level of fraud and conflict of interest CH2MHill drags into every aspect of the FDEP’s ASR program.
CH2MHill is the go-to engineering company for nearly every FDEP, SWFWMD and ACOE project in the state of Florida. They are in the ASR business, the desalinization plant business and many other alternative water source endeavors. Past CEO’s and other executives own and run the largest desalinization operations around the world.
Just some of the CH2MHill rap-sheet:
- 9/22/11 CH2M Hill to Pay $1.5 million in Settlement with US
- 3/6/13 CH2M Hill Will Pay $18.5 Million to Resolve US Department of Justice investigation into Fraud at the Hanford Nuclear Facility
More conflict of interest: In the nine members appointed to the NRC’s-ASR Committee, two: David Pyne (president of ASR Systems, LLC) and Rhodes Trussell (founder and CEO of Trussell Technologies), are leaders in the ASR industry and stand to benefit a great deal from the ASR system plan.
None of the information provided to the NRC’s-ASR committee members indicates that David Pyne or Rhodes Trussell has any expertise with modeling or tracing groundwater flow of injections and withdrawals of fluids in highly fractured regional karst aquifer systems, such as the Floridan aquifer system.
Of the remaining seven members in the ASR committee, few have the experience or meet the criteria in the particular sciences to qualify the job.
It appears the FDEP and SWFWMD action being taken seems to be more of a rubber stamp enabling the state to hijack the approval process from federal oversight.
The Ecology Party of Florida, along with a growing number of other environmental groups, oppose the ASR System plan and the general idea of injecting billions of gallons of surface water/wastewater into the aquifer.
The well-researched Reiner and Reiner comment letters, representing the Ecology Party’s position, are not alone. Other professional opinions have been submitted as comment letters to the ACOE. Most argue that the substitution of data, absence of science and lack of oversight invite disaster to the sole water source for 12 million people. A map of ASR and withdrawal wells in the Southwestern Florida Water Management District / South Florida Water Management Distric from the Reiner and Reiner comment letters, can be found here with further explanation here.
For years, the state of Florida has fought federal environmental oversight, while reducing state regulations. The rubber stamping of mining permits, the abundance of agriculture and developmental sprawl in south and central Florida have led to excessive water draw-down of the aquifer.
USGS Report on West-central Florida: Groundwater development in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area has led to saltwater intrusion and subsidence in the form of sinkhole development and concern about surface-water depletion from lakes in the area. In order to reduce its dependence on groundwater, Tampa has constructed a desalination plant to treat seawater for municipal supply.
Also from the USGS Report: One water-quality threat to fresh groundwater supplies is contamination from saltwater intrusion. Under natural conditions the boundary between the freshwater and saltwater tends to be relatively stable, but pumping can cause saltwater to migrate inland and upward, resulting in saltwater contamination of the water supply.
The statement by the ACOE to the NRC’s ASR Committee stating that there is no opposition to the ASR wells in Florida is patently false.
It appears that injecting surface/wastewater into the aquifer (ASR) to save our groundwater source really only adds insult to injury. Evidence that water injected into the aquifer can be stored, or the same water recovered, is yet to be documented, but there is tangible proof that the aquifer can be contaminated in many ways, with one being excessive well drilling.
The Tampa Bay’s regional remedy for depleted groundwater — building a desalinization plant — certainly shouldn’t offer enough relief to support officials recklessly gambling with our water source, unless quadrupling the cost of municipal water is the goal.
Tampa Bay Water is a good example of how portable water produced from a desalinization plant does cost many times the amount of that from the aquifer.
This is the beginning of the end of fresh groundwater in the state of Florida. If the FDEP and SWFWMD are left to have their way, we may all end up paying many many times what we pay now for an inferior water source.