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We attended virtually the Suwannee River Water Management District meeting this morning Tues., Feb. 9, 2021, and we reached a low of disappointment. We addressed the Board regarding the new and revised MFLs, which are very near adoption. Since it was an agenda item there was a report and discussion in the meeting where we felt the District staff did not present nor explain the changes in a fair manner.
First we will put here our comments to the Board:
The fact that the latest MFL revision for the lower Santa Fe River finds that the river now meets its minimums comes as no surprise, but no less disappointment in the agency which is supposed to protect our water but sees its duty as finding ways to continue to grant permits.
This agency went through a series of public input and peer review committee meetings which had serious concerns about the revision procedure. During these virtual meetings it seems that the largely-negative input from the average non-scientist citizen was mostly not taken seriously.
Competent water scientists who do not work for the District maintain that extant historical data regarding flows were deliberately disregarded and estimates by a new model were substituted instead, resulting in the new classification. This not using the best science and is a serious issue.
This is extremely disconcerting and adds to the evidence indicating that preservation and conservation, let alone restoration of our rivers are not the mission of our state agencies.
The timing of this new classification for the river which gives it less protection, coincides with the extremely sensitive issue of a permit for a water bottling company. There are critics who suspect that a weak and toothless denial of the permit and equally weak but costly ensuing legal challenge were employed to slow things down and allow time for the new designation before the water bottling vote.
So the fact remains that the Santa Fe River did not miraculously get well overnight. It is still flowing at least 30 % less than it should and is still overloaded with nutrients, no matter what adjectives you pick to categorize it. And to the District I will say that you are still not doing your job of protecting it.
Board member Charles Keith asked questions regarding the category change from “in recovery” to “in prevention.” (“in prevention” is defined as the river is expected to fall below the MFL during the next 20 years.) Part of the answer he received was “We have better data now.” A sentence from my talk above is: Competent water scientists who do not work for the District maintain that extant historical data regarding flows were deliberately disregarded and estimates by a new model were substituted instead, resulting in the new classification.
Historic data which were available to District staff were ignored to help them reach the result needed to say the Santa Fe now meets its minimums. Since it meets its minimums they feel justified in giving away more water to industry and falsely saying it is not harming the river. The river has not gotten healthier it has gotten a new status rating, apparently achieved by juggled numbers to reach an end.
This is not using the required “best available science” and is reprehensible.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum