SJRWMD Issues Water Permit for St. John’s River Tributary

This has been an important memorable week for citizens in Florida regarding our public natural resource…water.

The first notable event took place on Monday in Palatka at the St. John’s River Water Management District’s (SJRWMD) Headquarters.  After tens of 1000’s participated in formal public outrage by petitions signing, phone calls, letters and ultimately hundreds of people (most of the public speakers were leaders of their groups representing hundreds of members, such as myself for instance) sitting through an 8 hour meeting, the 9 member board voted 5-4 in favor a permit that would end up extracting 5.5 millions (yet the “pipeline” capacity will be built to yield 55 million!) of gallons daily from a spring fed tributary that feeds the mighty St. John’s River.  The first 5 years of this permit offers the water (up to 900 gallons a day) to “treat” their “treated” waste water for their manicured landscaping.
The cumulative impacts studies have not been completed and many residents in the upper St. John’s (one of 4 rivers in the entire world that flows from the south to the north) spoke out at the meeting about “sea creatures that they have never seen in this part of the river before in their lifetime”, in other words the salt water from the north is coming in because the fresh water is being over used.
The pipeline is to be built on a Florida State Preserve lands and Black Bear Habitat.  The Florida Department of Environmental Protection HAS NOT approved this construction permit yet.

Call or write (snail mail works best) the

Secretary of FDEP, Michael Sole,
3900 Commonwealth Boulevard M.S. 49
Tallahassee, Florida 32399″
[email protected]
850-245-2118 (phone) / 850-245-2128 (fax)

Please read the St. John’s Riverkeeper, Neil Armingon, letter below and several others that explain this dire situation.  We are asking (thank you in advance for all your continued support and help)) each of you to do your part in protecting our water supplies in the state of Florida.  One would think that our efforts during the past year regarding this concern were “done”, but the vote was cast and the people who want Florida’s precious resources protected are not going to stand down on this one, or others to come.  Call and write or talk to the people you know that can still impact this decision.

Many of us that attended the meeting are in the midst of creating a Florida state water coalition.  Inviting those who did not attend in person, yet want to be apart of this group concerned with  protecting the future of Florida’s public natural resource, to join our efforts too.  Contact me about this.

Thank you for taking the time to read through al this.  You are a vital part of water conservation and protection.

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson

President of Our Santa Fe River, Inc

Pipeline from St. John’s River to Seminole County

Dear Friends of the St. Johns River—Brothers and Sisters,

Four days after the public hearing in Palatka, I can only describe my feelings as bittersweet.

If you haven’t heard, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) Governing Board voted to issue a permit to Seminole County for the Yankee Lake water withdrawal and treatment plant.  More on this issue later.  Let me say emphatically, we are disappointed but NOT defeated.  The struggle will continue.

Monday’s hearing was historic.  I estimate over 400 people attended, or tried to attend the meeting.  It lasted over seven hours, and over 60 citizens spoke.  More were signed up to speak, but because of the length of the hearing, many had to leave. A generous donor chartered a bus for Riverkeeper,  and over 40 folks joined us on our trip to Palatka.

The crowd travelled from across the state.  Stan Meeks, the new Suwannee Riverkeeper made the long trek from Dixie County to add his voice to ours.  Citizens came from Brevard, Lake, Seminole, Volusia, St. Johns, Putnam, Clay, Marion, Columbia, and Duval  Counties.

Representatives spoke from Democratic and Republican clubs, bass fishing groups, environmental organizations, garden clubs, and local governments.  The diversity of the crowd was awe-inspiring.  Over 5,000 signatures against the Yankee Lake project were collected by several groups. (Special thanks go to Janet and Linda Smith in Welaka for their tireless efforts gathering names!)

I cannot tell you how great it was to be in crowd of people who love the St. Johns River and came to defend her from this ill-conceived plan.

Thanks to everyone who attended the meeting, rode the bus,  collected names on petitions, who emailed—tried to email the Governing Board—and who have stood with us during this long journey.  There are too many of you to thank by name, but thank you just the same, and God bless you.

I’ve been working as an environmentalist for almost 20 years. This fight against water withdrawals has been one of the most honorable and inspiring efforts that I have been involved with in my life.  I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Now for the bad news. The deliberation by the Governing Board was far more diligent and intense than I expected.  Some of the board members carefully considered the significance of the decision before them.

Sadly, some of the members appeared to come to the meeting with their minds already made up.  The final vote was 5-4.  Susan Hughes from Jacksonville, an executive with JEA cast the deciding vote.  David Graham of Jacksonville also voted in favor of taking water from the river.  Douglas C. Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, Michael Ertel, an elected official from Seminole County, and Ann Moore, from Volusia County also voted in favor or removing water from the St. Johns. Ann Moore supposedly represented conservation interests, and her vote was a betrayal.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Governing Board members Hans G. Tanzler III from Jacksonville, Hersey “Herky” Huffman from Enterprise, W. Leonard Wood from Fernandina, and Arlen N. Jumper from Ft. McCoy who voted to say no to water withdrawals.

I’ve said publicly at the meeting and after the meeting that the SJRWMD has failed the public, failed the river, and turned its back on its mission.  It was clear from the testimony from the administrative hearing that Seminole County does not need to take water from the river until after 2014.  The District has not required the county to pursue adequate conservation, and has simply chosen to put the river in harm’s way to allow Seminole County to continue to grow at an unsustainable rate and continue to use water inefficiently.

Sadly, the District failed to prepare for this crowd.   The District knew that a large crowd was planning on attending the meeting, and the District offices were too small.  Unfortunately, the staff failed to locate a larger venue that would have allowed all of the concerned citizens to attend the hearing.  Many people were turned away and were told they could not enter the building.  After citizens expressed outrage, they were allowed to fill out speaker cards and told they may be able to speak.  Some waited for hours outside until their names were called.

The mishandling of the crowd was not the District’s only failure.  The SJRWMD began to block emails sent from the St. Johns Riverkeeper website.  You may remember Riverkeeper members could not contact the board members prior to the hearing due to something called ex parte communications.  But non-Riverkeeper members, and the general public, should not have been prevented from contacting the board.

We began to receive messages from citizens that emails sent to the District were being blocked or returned.  At first, the District told us that SJRK members’ emails would be blocked.   We later were told that ANY email from the Riverkeeper website, sent by members or non-members, would be blocked.

We later learned that e-mails from other groups were also being filtered.   One of the board members asked the staff about the blocked emails.  A staff attorney for the District reported that that the District had blocked 19,000 emails, including emails from St. Johns Riverkeeper, Save the Manatee Club, Welaka Women’s’ Club, and 36 individuals.  Citizens’ rights to contact their officials have been compromised by the SJRWMD and their constitutional rights were violated.  This is outrageous.

We’re looking into several legal issues that I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say, we’re not giving up.   We will keep you posted as events unfold through e-mails and through our new blog.

Thank you for standing with us in defense of the St. Johns River. I want to assure you that I will do everything in my power to overturn this injustice. Working together, we will see change and progress.

Keep the faith!
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper,
Neil Armingeon

________________________________________________________________________________________________

For the legion of supporters of the St. Johns River who traveled to Palatka this week, the result was discouraging.
A significant battle was lost when the governing board of the St. Johns River Water Management District made the health of the river subordinate to the desire for ever more development and the lust for lush, green landscaping.

But even though Seminole County and its allies in the water management district were victorious in their bid to take water from the St. Johns to irrigate lawns and golf courses, the growing strength of the opposing army couldn’t have gone unnoticed.

More than 300 people went to the district’s remote headquarters and sat for eight hours on Monday to let the board know that Seminole County’s plan to take water from the river was wrong – dead wrong.
They came from all over – Deland, Keystone Heights, Jacksonville, Melrose, Welaka, Georgetown, Fort White, Interlachen, Ponte Vedra and Orange Park.

They represented garden clubs, women’s clubs, town councils, county commissions, soil and water conservation districts, Republicans, Democrats, the Sierra Club, Audubon and the Riverkeeper.   And I suspect that because of bone headed decisions like the one the governing board made, that army will continue to grow.  A lost battle is not a lost war. The fight must continue because Seminole County will be back for more as will other cities, counties and utilities that were watching this battle from the sidelines.

The four board members who voted no – Leonard Wood, Hersey Huffman, Hans Tanzler III and Arlen Jumper – should be commended.   Unfortunately, two of the five votes betraying the St. Johns were cast by board members from Jacksonville – David Graham and Susan Hughes.  Graham, in fact, led the charge to support Seminole County.  He tried to assure the crowd that if there is any evidence the water withdrawal harms the river, Seminole County’s operation will be “shut down.”  Graham may live on Mars, but the rest of us live in Florida and know how things work in Florida.

Seminole County is building a $100 million plant with the capacity to withdraw 50 million gallons of water a day from the St. Johns, not the 5.5 million gallons a day included in this permit.  Does anyone seriously believe a board made up of political appointees is going to “shut down” a $100 million plant or say no when Seminole County comes back asking for more?

That will only happen when the politicians making the appointments are forced to listen to the growing army that puts the health of our rivers, streams, lakes and marshes over development where it shouldn’t go and green lawns.

The terms of two of the yes votes – Graham’s and Ann Moore’s – have expired.
The next battlefield is making sure Gov. Charlie Crist appoints more board members who will do the right thing.
And, hunker down, this is going to be a long war.

[email protected], (904) 359-4284

 

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