The latest op-ed from OSFR is about the organization’s rocky road to the legal challenge of the excessive withdrawal permit issued last spring by SRWMD. It is published in today’s Lake City Reporter, and in it is our request that everyone who has concerns about our water resources attend the next water district’s Governing Board meeting Tuesday, Aug. 12, in Live Oak at the district headquarters at 9225 CR 49, at 9 AM.
This is just on the east side of Live Oak near where CR 49 and Hwy 90 intersect. Your attendance at this meeting will help show the water managers that we are not happy with the slow but consistent decline and destruction of our springs, rivers and aquifer, and that we believe that they are not doing what is necessary to stop it.
Following is the opinion piece, written by OSFR President Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and volunteer member Jim Tatum, as submitted to editor Robert Bridges, to the Lake City Reporter:
Spirit of fairness lacking at Suwannee River Water Management District
The lawyers at Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) just saved you, the Florida taxpayers some money. But at the same time they just took away something of yours that is beyond price and that cannot be replaced. The following is a summation of this injustice to Florida’s citizens, carried out by our leaders and supposed protectors of our state’s resources.
In May of 2014 members of Our Santa Fe River, Inc., (OSFR) first learned that SRWMD had issued to a farmer a water use permit (WUP) allowing an average daily rate (ADR) of 2.3142 million gallons and a maximum daily rate (MDR) of 33.1200 gallons, for land to be newly converted from silviculture to row cropping. This amounts to roughly 845 million gallons per year, to be withdrawn from the Suwannee, Santa Fe and Ichetucknee springsheds. SRWMD staff estimated this one permit would reduce the entire springflow of the Ichetucknee headspring by nearly one percent.
Given that the Santa Fe and Ichetucknee are deemed “Outstanding Florida Waters” and that SRWMD has categorized these rivers as “in recovery” (meaning they are already damaged by overuse of water withdrawals), OSFR initiated a legal challenge to prevent further damage to these tributaries of the Suwannee.
Due to confusion over the deadline for submitting the challenge because of Memorial Day, a legal holiday, the challenge was inadvertently filed one day late, and on June 18, 2014, the district dismissed the petition on the basis that it was not timely filed. OSFR then employed a law firm who cited five precedences where late petitioners had challenges accepted due to “excusable neglect,” but the district intends to disallow this challenge, due to the technicality, at the Governing Board meeting next Tuesday in Live Oak.
By not allowing OSFR its right to proceed, SRWMD has effectively shielded its shortcomings, faulty procedures, flawed science and thinking from being exposed before an Administrative Hearings judge where an objective authoritative judgment could be rendered.
There are some problems which need to be addressed: the Three Prong Test in F.S. 373.223 needs to be defined; it was designed to protect the public interest and existing users, and but now it is being used to issue permits, trending more toward “fast-track” operations, e.g. getting the permit allocated in the shortest time possible. Originally, this permit was requested for ten years, and as an afterthought, the applicant changed that number to 20 years, and this was granted to him just one week later, with no apparent justifications given by SWRMD.
What science was used to determine an 0.84% flow reduction? What due diligence was the applicant required to supply? Where is evidence that the 96-hour Aquifer Performance Test (APT) was done, that other districts require? Was due diligence done by the applicant or the district staff to examine existing neighbor users? Evidence exists that an immediate neighbor to the property has serious well issues on his land.
Is this an example of water banking? It is no secret that the applicant wishes to sell his land and would not use this permit. Whether or not the water user implements row-cropping, or sells his land, the fact that the permit is issued for agriculture use does not make it mandatory that the district issue the permit.
So thus we see that SRWMD, while protecting itself from dealing with hard questions for which they may have no easy answers, has followed the letter of the law, but they may have stepped over the line of good judgment and good public relations. Discriminating citizens who care about what is happening to their springs and rivers and other natural water resources, will question the actions of these governor-appointed leaders who are not protecting our state’s priceless and irreplaceable resources.
The SRWMD Governing Board meets next Tuesday, August 12, 2014 in Live Oak and on the agenda is the recommendation to deny continuation of the challenge. OSFR requests that all concerned citizens attend this public meeting and show support for protecting our springs and rivers. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at Suwannee River Water Management District headquarters located at 9225 CR 49, on the eastern outskirts of Live Oak. You are welcome and encouraged to speak for the rivers but that is not necessary. You might be asked to simply stand, if you support water conservation. Your help is sorely needed and appreciated.