Yes, this is a criminal act sanctioned by our non-leaders, who bumble about in the great void that is our lack of leadership. One more legal step to dry up the Rainbow. We can complain and accuse those who vote and sign the papers but we must look to our governorship in Tallahassee as the reason. Until that changes there seems to be little hope. All the more reason to get involved and help make a change.
Remember: litigation and new faces in Tallahassee.
Read this article by Fred Hiers in the original in the Gainesville Sun at this link.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Sides meet to discuss river
Environmentalists doubt regulators will change approach to Rainbow River
By Fred Hiers
BROOKSVILLE — Hopes that regulators would change their minds about how to best protect the Rainbow River were dim on Monday after 50 or so environmentalists met with a member of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s governing board.
In March, the board decided that the Rainbow River’s flow could safely be cut another 5 percent without doing significant harm to the pristine and state-protected water body or the ecosystem that depends on it.
Many of those who attended Monday’s meeting at Swiftmud’s headquarters brought pictures showing that the Rainbow’s level
has fallen several feet during the past few years. They said an additional 5 percent reduction in flow would make matters seriously worse. Many want Swiftmud to not allow any reduction in flow.
Swiftmud board member Kelly Rice oversaw the meeting and represented the board. He was the only board member present.
Rice said at the close of the meeting that he still had faith in district staff’s computer modeling, which shows that the Rainbow’s flow could be safely reduced.
“As a board member I have confidence in Mark’s group,” Rice said, referencing Mark Hammond,
director of Swiftmud’s Resource Management Division.
Most of the people attending the meeting were area environmentalists or Dunnellon residents. They say that most of the Rainbow’s 20 percent decline in flow over the past few decades is a result of over pumping of the aquifer. The Swiftmud staff and board say the reduction is a result of a significant decline in rainfall.
“I can tell you other parts of the state (that) I’m not seeing water where I used to see water,” Rice said, citing the ongoing Florida drought that is causing many rivers and springs to experience declines.
Many in the audience complained that neither Swiftfmud staffers nor board members were listening to anyone opposed to the additional 5 percent reduction.
Dunnellon resident Mary Ann Hilton said after the three-hour meeting that she doubted much would come of the public’s complaint, or that anyone on the Swiftmud board would change his or her position.
“I don’t know if they’ll have the intestinal fortitude to do what is right,” she said.
While staff and environmentalists agree flow is diminished, and unwanted nutrients have increased, they disagree about the causes.
Hammond contends that while the Rainbow River’s flow has been diminishing, on average annually since about 1960, that is due to mainly reduced rainfall. Pumping accounts for only 1 percent to 2 percent of the river’s reduced flow, he said.
In March, Swiftmud staff presented rainfall and flow data showing that between 1992 and 2014 pumping actually declined. Despite those reductions in pumping, flow also continued to decline.
Swiftmud staff said evidence shows that drought, not pumping, is behind the declining Rainbow River flow.
“In terms of the water level , we feel that is the drought,” Hammond said. “The ground model that we have reflects years of development … and is based on extensive date we collected over decades.”
Between 2001-2010, median annual rainfall has been about 51.5 inches. Between 1941-1950, rainfall had reached a maximum of about 59 inches a year, according to Swiftmud data.
The newly established minimum flows and levels, known as MFLs, which allow for the 5 percent reduction, means the Rainbow River flow eventually could be reduced to about 646 cubic feet per second (cfs). If the river’s flow diminishes by the full 5 percent, Hammond told the audience, the depth of the river would fall only a few inches.
Swiftmud staff’s original recommendation to allow flow to be reduced 5 percent was peer reviewed. Originally, the peer review made note of the river’s increased nutrient concentrations, and how flow keeps those nutrients washing down the river and unavailable to unwanted vegetation.
“The District should consider capping withdrawals at current levels, or with a minimal allowable increase, until the nutrient issues are effectively addressed,” the peer review said.
But during the March meeting, peer review board Chairman Dann Yobbi had changed his mind.
He said that after much discussion with staff, the staff’s 5 percent proposal was “reasonable” and based on science. The staff’s recommendation was originally allowing up to 7 percent flow reduction, but that was reduced to 5 percent, the culmination of staff and peer review discussions, he said.
Robert Knight is the director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in Gainesville. He opposes allowing the Rainbow River’s flow to decline an additional 5 percent.
He said Swiftmud’s model, which supports the reduction, is wrong, and pumping, not just drought, is behind much of the Rainbow River’s decline.
He presented data that showed that during the 1960s, while rainfall was still greater than it is today, the river’s flow began to decline. Only a few years later did rainfall also decline.
“You can pretty much assume the rest is due to pumping,” he told the audience, Rice and Swiftmud staff on Monday.
He also showed that the river’s flow was an average of 718 cubic feet per second between 1929 and 1939. Average annual rainfall during that period was 54.13 inches, he said.
But between 2000 and 2016, the river’s flow was down to 596.1 cubic feet per second while annual average rainfall was 50.15 inches.
Given Swiftmud staff’s argument that drought is behind most of the flow’s decline, 50.15 inches of rainfall still should still have resulted in about 700 cfs worth of flow, Knight said. But it didn’t, Knight said. The reason: pumping.
The hearing Monday was part of the process by which Swiftmud establishes minimum flows and levels. Those MFLs allow for the 5 percent reduction in flow. The hearing was part of the Swiftmud MFL process by which people affected by the MFL can make their case.
The people at the meeting can now take their case to a Florida administrative law judge and challenge the Swiftmud board decision. Otherwise, Swiftmud will send its MFL approval to state authorities for final approval.
Bill Vibber, of Dunnellon, said that while it’s an uphill battle, he and others opposed to the further flow decline had little choice but to voice their concerns.
“We’re going to continue the discussion and the debate,” he said. “Science isn’t always right.”
He said the reduced flow has many additional consequences. One is that unwanted nutrients such as nitrogen doesn’t get washed downstream; instead, they linger and cause algae blooms and unwanted vegetation growth.
The river’s nitrogen level has increased from 0.1 milligrams per liter to the current 2.6 milligrams per liter.
“There is a risk here,” Vibber said. “I am extremely skeptical in making decisions based on modeling. Do we really want to risk that on modeling? I don’t think so.”
He said Swiftmud staff is trying to protect the river but also feeling pressure from industries that want more water.
Burt Eno, president of Rainbow River Conservation Inc., a nonprofit group of mostly residents and environmentalists focused on protecting the river and its spring, said he did not yet know if his group, or any other, would take legal steps to block Swiftmud’s MFL and 5 percent reduction.
Kaithleen Hernandez, 21, said that young people will reap the consequences of the Swiftmud board’s decision.
“You’re only thinking short-term profit. I have a whole lifetime to think about (what becomes of the river),” she told Rice during the hearing.
“It is these industries (asking for more water) that need regulating,” she said. “There is no future with development and more water withdrawals.
“Please don’t let the health of the river reach the point of no turning back,” she said. Contact Fred Hiers at [email protected] com and 352-397-5914.