Ichetucknee, Lower Santa Fe MFLs Are Ruled Invalid By Judge

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Law Judge Bram Canter. Photo credit: David Moritz

A giant step forward for environmentalists in Florida was announced today when it was learned that the minimum flows and levels which the SRWMD and DEP tried to deem as adequate, were rejected today by an administrative judge in Tallahassee.  The original article, by Christopher Curry, can be found in the Gainesville Sun at this link, or continue reading for a reproduction in this post.  OSFR thanks Nathan Crabbe for permission to publish this fine article in its entirety.

Ichetucknee, lower Santa fe FMLs, are ruled invalid by judge

Published: Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 5:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 5:19 p.m.

In a decision released Thursday afternoon, an administrative law judge ruled that the state’s proposed environmental protections for the Lower Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers are invalid because some of the required technical supporting information for them were too “vague.”

The minimum flows and levels for the rivers are supposed to set a point where any additional pumping of the rivers will lead to “significant” environmental harm.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said both rivers already were flowing below those MFLs. But after a coalition of water utilities considered a legal challenge, the department adopted rules that did not address the impact on the rivers from the groundwater pumping of utilities, agricultural operations or other users who currently hold water-withdrawal permits.

Under DEP rules, any existing groundwater pumping permit that comes up for renewal without a requested increase to allowable withdrawal levels “shall be” approved for up to 20 years, with the caveat that they will be revisited after a new computer groundwater flow model for North Florida and South Georgia is in place.

Saying that the state grandfathered in existing users who impacted the rivers and did not do enough to protect the rivers, the grass-roots environmental group Ichetucknee Alliance, with assistance from the national environmental group Earthjustice, and water advocate Paul Still, with the Bradford Soil & Water Conservation District, challenged the state’s adopted rules setting the MFLs.

In a 54-page ruling, Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter ruled that the MFLs were invalid on technical and narrow grounds. Siding with one argument raised by Still, Judge Canter said that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s adopted rules setting minimum flows and levels for the two rivers did not include enough technical information to support them. Specifically, Canter said the rules were invalid because the DEP left out the period of record, or the time span covered, for the flow duration curve of the rivers. That curve shows the time that the flow in a river, as measured in cubic feet per second, equals or exceeds a specific level.

In his ruling, Canter said the DEP also left out “synthetic” data, or numbers used to fill in gaps in data obtained by direct measurement, or a reference to a technical report that contained all that information.

“It’s great news,” Still said Thursday afternoon of the judge’s decision.

Lu Merritt, with the Ichetucknee Alliance, said the environmental group hopes the DEP and the Suwannee River Water Management District now will work more closely to address the concerns of the environmental groups.

But the review of the MFL rules may be limited.

Canter rejected the vast majority of the arguments against the MFLs. In a statement, DEP officials said they were “pleased the ruling upheld the department’s science supporting the MFLs and the approach to recovering the flows of these water bodies.”

“The Administrative Law Judge did, however, find that the MFLs needed to include an additional detail that was contained in a technical document to be complete,” the statement continued. “We will now examine the options for addressing this aspect of the rule.

 

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