Dr. Robert Knight, OSFR member and advisor, and Director of the Florida Springs Institute, has written comments, soon to appear in the Gainesville Sun, on the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan. Still in draft form, the Suwannee River and St Johns River water management districts are close to finalizing the plan, which defines the water needs to 2035. Dr. Knight emphasizes, as do many others, the eventual need for water users to pay for the water. The two districts do not seem to realize we have a water crisis in Florida. Certainly our legislators do not.
Read the entire article at this link.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Robert Knight: The true cost of water
Posted at 2:00 AM
Florida receives an average of 54.5 inches of rain annually, ranking fifth out of the 50 states in total rainfall (behind Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama). By comparison, California is sprinkled with just 22 inches of precipitation each year, less than one half of Florida’s average. With approximately 150 billion gallons of rain falling each day on Florida’s soils, you might wonder why Florida’s government must plan for water shortages.
The answer is simple. The Floridan Aquifer has been depleted and polluted by excessive groundwater withdrawals and large-scale applications of nutrients to the soil. Yet Florida’s water managers continue to issue permits for this most precious water supply, at the expense of the state’s water bodies – the springs, lakes, rivers and estuaries that historically benefited from a constant supply of pure groundwater.
The St. Johns River and Suwannee River water management districts spent the last five years developing the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan. This plan attempts to address excessive groundwater pumping in the 14-county area of northeast Florida, including Alachua County, and its effect on reduced flows in the 300-plus springs that feed the Suwannee River, and the many sandhill lakes in and around Keystone Heights.
At 487 pages, the draft plan is not a pleasure to read. But close inspection reveals that there is not a single mention of reducing the amount of water pumped from the Floridan Aquifer. No mention of a sustainable groundwater yield. No line-in-the-sand that says, “Too much pumping!” Just a vague prediction of impending disaster, followed by the reassurance that if we spend enough public dollars to engineer costly projects, the “future” water resource catastrophe can be temporarily avoided.
Section 373.227, Florida Statutes, states that the overall water conservation goal of the state is “to prevent and reduce wasteful, uneconomical, or unreasonable use of water resources.” It makes sense to use a precious source of clean water in a manner that is both appropriate and efficient. For this reason, water resource engineers are trained to use water from the lowest quality source appropriate for the intended use.
For example, potable groundwater from Florida’s most pristine natural water supply, the Floridan Aquifer, should not be used for agricultural and urban landscape irrigation, or for many commercial and industrial processes. And yet, of the approximately 3.5 billion gallons pumped each day from the Floridan Aquifer, roughly 75 percent is used for irrigation and industrial cooling.
As stated in Florida Statutes, the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan is intended to:
â€¢ “Promote the conservation, replenishment, recapture, enhancement, development, and proper utilization of surface and ground water.
â€¢ Promote the availability of sufficient water for all existing and future reasonable-beneficial uses and natural systems.
â€¢ Preserve natural resources, fish and wildlife.”
And yet, the plan, as currently written, admits that:
â€¢ Existing anthropogenic flow reductions in the springs feeding the Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers are already significantly harmful to the ecology and economy of the region.
â€¢ With the current level of groundwater pumping, the drained lakes in and around Keystone Heights don’t have a chance of recovering.
â€¢ With the plan, the springs along the Suwannee River will continue to lose more flow due to regional impacts of aquifer pumping.
â€¢ Excessive groundwater utilization is already resulting in significant salt water intrusion in 31 percent of the potable water wells sampled in North Florida.
â€¢ Under this plan, more than 20,000 acres of natural wetlands have moderate to high potential for additional dehydration.
The North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan makes no attempt to find the most cost-effective solutions to meet society’s future water needs. For example, even in this time of water shortage and documented impacts to many springs and lakes, Florida’s governmental officials continue to dole out new groundwater extraction permits.
A farming operation, phosphate mine, water bottler or other large-scale water user can still receive a permit to extract groundwater, with no cost for the water! In their allegiance to “promoting the availability of sufficient water for all existing and future reasonable-beneficial uses,” the water management districts have drafted a plan that provides more free water to private, for-profit enterprises, at a projected cost to the public of $390 million dollars!
No kidding, for a one-time, $100 fee, an applicant can obtain a 20-year water use permit to extract 99,999 gallons per day of groundwater to water grass to graze cattle or to grow peanuts. But the true cost to offset that water allocation estimated in the plan is $260,000 per 100,000 gallons per day.
Florida’s springs and spring-fed rivers represent a natural endowment worth more than $10 billion in direct economic benefits to Florida’s economy. This inherited wealth is already in serious peril since water use permits currently allocate to human activities about one half of the natural flow from Florida’s 1,000-plus artesian springs. Pure and plentiful groundwater is the lifeblood of springs and spring-fed rivers, and sustained flow reductions result in ecological impairment, declining fish and wildlife habitat, and diminished recreational/human-use values.
The North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan spells out the true cost of water. When users don’t pay for the water they withdraw, then everyone else is left holding the tab.
– Robert Knight is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute and author of “Silenced Springs – Moving from Tragedy to Hope.”