The Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs) determined by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD, or District) have been challenged by Rainbow River Conservation, Inc. (RRC) of Dunnellon, FL, with support from the Florida Springs Council.
RRC contends that the current MFLs will not protect the river and its ecology from significant harm and their challenge has resulted in a hearing which took place at the District’s headquarters in Brooksville on June 10 and 11 and continues today, June 12, 2019.
The players in this long and intense hearing include Administrative Law Judge Robert J. Telfer III, Petitioners’ lead attorney Jane West supported by Douglas Maclaughlin and assisted by Laurel Talent; District’s Senior Attorney Hillary Ryan supported by Deputy General Counsel Chris Tumminia and General Counsel Assistants Mike Bray and Adrienne Vining.
Petitioners called as witnesses were Bill Vibbert, Burt Eno, Michelle Blasingame, Dennis Jones, Michael (Sid) Flannery, Jim Gross and Bob Knight. Bob Palmer assisted the lawyers with strategy. Flannery was employed as a scientist by the District for 29 years. The District’s witnesses were all scientists from their agency and were Ron Basso, Chris Anastasiou, and Doug Leeper.
One of the many contentions of the petitioners was that the water model used to establish the MFLs by the District, the Northern District Model, was not accurate for a small specific region, and was designed for a huge domain of 10,000 square miles. There were many other allegations also, such as the time span employed, the subjective calibration and other misuses of the model. Petitioners contended that the upshot of this practice resulted in the model showing more water than was actually present. And that is the design of the MFL, to take every bit of water out of the river without doing “significant harm.” This idea is backward, as seen below:
IRONIC THOUGHT: why is our agency working so hard to squeeze out the last drop of water from this river? Why don’t they work as hard to preserve it as they do to destroy it?
The hearing was not fast-moving and the documentation was monumental. Bob knight was earlier deposed for nine hours, and the resultant document was between three and four hundred pages. He was on the witness stand for several hours and many of the questions were repetitious.
Petitioners’ main scientists Bob Knight and Jim Gross both showed an amazing amount of knowledge, poise, patience and verbal ability to answer the hundreds of questions. Both were totally convincing in showing what has happened to the Rainbow River in both flow reduction and water quality degradation due to abuse by over-pumping and human-induced pollution.
The importance of this challenge is vital. Should the judge rule in favor of the river, it would send waves throughout the state as an affirmation of the abuse and neglect that our agencies bestow upon our waters.
Just as for-profit corporations run our nation, so do they run Florida and that is why industry and profit prevail over conservation of our water resources.
Should we and the river lose, at the very least this hearing will serve as one more example to the state that their failure to protect our waters will no longer go unchallenged.
OSFR appreciates the tremendous amount of time and work involved by the petitioners in this challenge. We all stand to win from their efforts and we are all indebted to them.
Update: since we were unable to attend the third day of the hearing, we thank Bob Palmer for the following information:
The hearing concluded at about 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Proposed final orders from the petitioners and the District have to be submitted to DoAH within 30 days of receipt of the hearing transcript, or about July 25.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-