The water districts lately have been receiving a lot of criticism for allowing our springs and rivers to decline. Not enough can be said, nor can the criticism be too harsh, because what they are doing is robbing the citizens of Florida and all those who want to enjoy these natural treasures, of something that cannot be replaced. And they are doing it for money. They are selling our resources for money.
If you are sick and tired of this non-protection by our water protectors, come to Brooksville Tues. March 28 and tell them. They need to hear it from the citizens. Information HERE.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
The true price of green grass
Two of the largest and best known artesian springs in the world are Silver Springs near Ocala and Rainbow Springs near Dunnellon. These truly amazing aquatic treasures are both in Marion County and are centrally located in Florida’s “Land of a Thousand Springs.”
The St. Johns River and Southwest Florida water management districts have spent millions of dollars to study and quantify the water resource values of these biological and cultural icons. The Silver Springs 50-year retrospective study, published by the St. Johns River district in 2006, concluded that Silver Springs was significantly harmed by 30 years of declining flows and rising nitrate levels.
A 12-spring ecosystem study, completed in 2009 with funding from both districts, confirmed that the biological functions of both Silver and Rainbow springs were measurably impaired by flow reductions and elevated nutrient concentrations.
Most recently, district staff and paid consultants recommended protective minimum flows (an average 6 percent decline for Silver Springs and 5 percent for Rainbow Springs). However, the senior management of the districts have achieved a new level of environmental and fiscal irresponsibility with their proposed regulatory minimum flows for Silver and Rainbow springs. According to their proposed minimum flow rules, Silver Springs, with a documented longterm flow reduction of more than 32 percent, will suffer an additional loss of 10 million gallons per day (mgd). Current flows at Rainbow Springs are more than 20 percent below historic flows, yet the Southwest Florida district is poised to allow an additional reduction of 20 mgd.
In spite of those studies that document existing, significant impairment at Silver and Rainbow, senior district executives have concluded that these spring ecosystems can tolerate additional harm.
To justify this illogical and inconsistent decision, thewater management districts are trusting flawed groundwater models rather than real data in their own reports.
In the case of the proposed regulatory minimum flow for Silver Springs, the St. Johns River district concluded that, of the 32 percent overall decline, 3.5 percent is attributed by the model to groundwater pumping, 13 percent is due to reduced rainfall and the remaining 15.5 percent is the result of vegetation “damming.” District staff postulate that an apparent increase in submerged aquatic plants in the Silver River is holding back spring inflows. Considering that the missing groundwater does not appear anywhere in the regional water balance, this conclusion is inconsistent with the laws of physics (the mass conservation of water) and implausible.
It does not take a genius to see the districts’ attempted deceptions. Their reports from 2006 and 2009 concluded that these springs are unhealthy due to excessive flow reductions. More than 300 mgd of the historic baseline flows at Silver and Rainbow springs are already gone. Annual average flows at Silver Springs have been below the district’s recommended minimum flow for 15 of the last 16 years. At Rainbow Springs, spring flows have been below the Southwest Florida district’s proposed regulatory minimum for 15 of the last 18 years.
While senior district staff are complicit in this charade, it is important to also hold members of the district governing boards accountable. One plausible explanation for such un-protective minimum flows is Tallahassee’s mandate to accelerate the issuance of water use permits to appease political donors.
For example, three years ago, St. Johns River district staff recommended denial of the second consumptive use permit request for Sleepy Creek Lands (aka Adena Springs) grass-fed beef operation in the Silver Springs groundwater basin. The district’s then-best-available model predicted that existing groundwater pumping permits already put Silver Springs past the point of significant harm and in a deficit of 20 to 30 mgd.
To avoid that denial, Sleepy Creek withdrew their permit request in 2014. Now, three years later and with a new model, district staff have reversed themselves and concluded that Silver Springs has a surplus of water. It should come as no surprise that Sleepy Creek requested the model change and has resubmitted their permit request, and the district staff are recommending approval.
Now to your pocketbook. Along with their proposed minimum flow, the St. Johns River district has developed a protection strategy that is intended to pull Silver Springs back from the brink of disaster just before it hits rock-bottom flows in 2024. Its proposal is to spend up to $59 million of tax- and ratepayers’ money to restore 20mgd of lost flows at Silver Springs. Do the math. That’s almost $3 million to recover each million gallons per day of flow at the springs.
Sleepy Creek is expecting to obtain a second groundwater permit that will allow them to withdraw 2.5 mgd from the aquifer to keep their cow’s grass green. With a price tag of $3 million per mgd, their permit will cost the equivalent of $7.5 million in public projects. It would be cheaper and more environmentally protective to just cover their fields with greenbacks and not reduce the flow to Silver Springs.
— Robert Knight is director of the Howard T.
Odum Florida Springs Institute.
Divers traverse the main spring at Silver River State Park. [ALAN YOUNGBLOOD/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER]
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