Florida has fallen to a new low where our water managing districts are running wild with no checks and no integrity. This must stop.
It is now possible to justify issuing permits with no valid scientific information whatsoever.
This statement is by Jim Gross, geologist, scientist formerly employed by water management districts.
The following article appeared in the Gainesville Sun.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
The board of the St. Johns River Water Management District approved a permit to pump groundwater on Tuesday. While the amount of groundwater permitted was relatively small, the significance of this particular permit is large.
The permit was issued to Sleepy Creek Lands, a cattle-ranching business owned by Frank Stronach. The permit had been challenged by an alliance that included St. Johns Riverkeeper, Florida Defenders of the Environment, Silver Springs Alliance and one individual petitioner. However, the legal bar for such challenges is exceptionally high for petitioners. Stronach and the district recently prevailed in the administrative law process.
Wind back the clock. The Stronach permit was pending in late 2014 during the run-up to Gov. Rick Scott’s bid for reelection. At that time, the St. Johns River Water Management District issued a notice of intent to deny the permit. The district had concluded that the flow of Silver Springs was already below the proposed minimum flow, and pumping more groundwater would make the situation worse. However, after Scott won reelection, the district changed its mind. If you are suspicious about the timing, you may be more suspicious of the district’s arguments for changing its mind.
The district relied on three principal arguments for issuing the permit. First, it claimed that reduced flow at Silver Springs is largely due to a long-term decline in rainfall. Second, it claimed that water use is declining, so reduced flow at Silver Springs will not be a problem. Third, the district claimed that groundwater pumping has caused flow at Silver Springs to decline by a mere 3 percent. This was the three-legged stool the district stood on to justify issuing the permit. Failure of any one leg would be solid ground for denying the permit. It turns out that all three legs of the stool are faulty.
In 2014, the district conducted a review of rainfall patterns in the district and in Florida as a whole. It examined its own rainfall data as well as peer-reviewed scientific articles for evidence of long-term trends. The results were included in a May 2015 draft report. While the district found evidence for short-term variations in rainfall, it found no hard evidence of long-term trends, either increasing or decreasing. Curiously, the district never published this report. One leg of the stool is completely missing.
The district also said that a trend of declining total water use would protect Silver Springs, but never provided plausible evidence for declining water use. Florida’s population is growing at a rate of roughly 1,000 people per day. Even the most aggressive water conservation efforts could not cause total water use to decline, especially when the district continues to issue more permits. Moreover, water conservation efforts by the district and users are reduced today compared to earlier years. The second leg of the stool is also missing.
The third leg of the district’s stool is purely imaginary. Measured flows at Silver Springs go all the way back to 1935. The average flow during the first 35 years of from 1935 through 1969 was 826 cubic feet per second (cfs). During the next 35 years, from 1970 through 2004, the average flow was 725 cfs, 12 percent below the earlier period. During the most recent period of time, from 2005 through 2017, the flow averaged 526 cfs, 36 percent lower than the initial period.
Given that these declines in flow are significantly larger than the 3 percent claimed by the district, and given that they cannot be explained by rainfall or water use, there is only one remaining explanation: progressively increasing pumping of groundwater. Moreover, the actual reductions in measured flows are quite comparable to groundwater modeling results reported by the U.S. Geological Survey, a federal agency with no permitting responsibilities in these matters. The district’s stool has no legs to stand on.
The reason this relatively small permit is significant should be obvious. It is now possible to justify issuing permits with no valid scientific information whatsoever. This is a sad commentary on the status of Florida environmental safeguards, but not unlike what we have seen for the past seven years.
This is an election year. It’s time to stop being fooled by three-legged stools and other political tricks. You may want to be mindful of such tricks as you weigh your choices among the candidates.
Jim Gross is the executive director of Florida Defenders of the Environment.