The Gainesville Sun has published the following article by OSFR advisor Dr. Robert Knight. One of the criteria for issuing huge consumptive use permits is that the withdrawal not have any negative effect on others. Obviously this one fell through the cracks and SRWMD needs to review this permit.
Further, UF is supposed to be our flagship university, and as such it should be an example of leadership in all aspects. President Fuchs, let us hear from you.
Unfortunately current law interpretation favors favors agriculture over conservation, to the detriment of our springs, rivers and aquifer. Agriculture rightly says “no farms, no food,” but they need to take one more step and think “no water, no farms.” This was recently pointed out by the Ichetuknee Alliance.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Robert Knight: Good neighbors and the Golden Rule
Thursday, May 18 2017
Posted at 2:00 AM
For 38 years, I have lived in rural Alachua County, enjoying the minimal traffic and homespun goodness of my agricultural community. One of my closest neighbors is the University of Florida’s Hague Dairy Research Institute. UF’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a 500-cow Holstein dairy that provides innovative research in animal husbandry and milk production.
Recently, the UF dairy installed two large Floridan Aquifer center pivot systems along NW 156th Avenue to irrigate silage for their hungry Holsteins. Recently I watched as one of those center pivots sprayed groundwater onto the paved road. According to the courteous farm manager, this is a startup issue that will be corrected. But, when I asked why those gigantic sprinklers are necessary now and were not needed in the previous 40-plus years of active milk production, the answer was that the research farm’s water use permit from the Suwannee River Water Management District was not being fully utilized. To save taxpayer money, UF/IFAS management decided to clear cut and sell “virgin” timber to pay for the pivots and allow additional area for growing forage crops for the cows.
A neighbor whose house is next door to the irrigated UF/IFAS dairy has recently found that his private well is sucking air. Big wells have regional consequences. They draw down the level of the aquifer in a classic “cone of depression.” Nearby private wells may stop producing water when the water table is lowered.
Perhaps the best guidance available to humans living together in this finite world is the proverbial “Golden Rule” that states: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” One of the most important functions of government is to enforce this fundamental tenet of amiable human society. But when your well dries up because your neighbor is pumping too much groundwater; or your drinking water is polluted by excessive nitrate; or your favorite springs, rivers and coastal estuaries are full of noxious algae; or saltwater intrudes further and further upstream due to declining spring flows; you are being injured. Your government is failing to do its job.
Bob Palmer’s April 23 opinion piece in The Sun describing the lengths to which local agriculture has inadvertently infringed on its neighbors’ fundamental rights of safety, health and welfare exemplifies the failure of Florida’s government to enforce the Golden Rule. Think of the billions of dollars being spent on Lake Okeechobee’s pollution of the coastal estuaries and the hundreds of millions currently estimated to undo the years of excessive fertilizer loads on thousands of acres of farmland in North Florida.
Many who have small agricultural businesses can justifiably claim that they are doing what the state told them it was OK to do. They are in the business of using fertilizer and groundwater to maximize crop yields and profits. Best management practices that do not require any reduction in profit margins and state-sponsored signs that say “This Farm Cares” were invented by Florida’s government to allow farming as usual, despite the drastic decline in the quality and quantity of the region’s groundwater and springs.
I am confident that managers and owners of corporate farms who are buying up and harmfully cultivating the poorest soils in North Florida are fully aware of the bad will created by their excessive fertilization and irrigation practices. These businesses hire attorneys and lobbyists to pass the laws that immunize their clients from annoying neighbors who believe in the Golden Rule. The “Right to Farm Act” allows Florida farmers to follow practices with impunity that contaminate and deplete wells next door and in surrounding counties. These mega-farmers support politicians who head up the Florida Department of Agriculture, as well as the governor and legislators who pass and sign such harmful laws.
Whether you live in the country or in the city, it is time to examine your personal footprint on the Floridan Aquifer and the springs it feeds. Assess your use of groundwater and your nitrogen contribution to the aquifer and springs. If your actions are excessively encroaching on the rights of others, then accept your personal responsibility, reduce your aquifer footprint and live more sustainably.
Here in rural Alachua County, the Golden Rule might be rephrased as follows: “Agriculture’s rights end where mine begin.” As a showcase for the wise management of Florida’s groundwater, I am hoping the UF/IFAS dairy will set a better example and return to their reliance on rain to water their crops.
— Robert Knight is author of “Silenced Springs — Moving from Tragedy to Hope” and director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, which is based out of the North Florida Springs Environmental Center in downtown High Springs.