The following editorial appeared in Friday’s Florida Times Union of Jacksonville. You can see the article here.
Guest column: Jacksonville has serious groundwater issues
Groundwater use by Jacksonville is causing grave harm to the surrounding counties and to the health of the Floridan aquifer, upon which the entire region relies.
The city currently withdraws about 90 million gallons per day of groundwater from the aquifer, dropping groundwater levels 40 feet in the vicinity of pumping.
This artificially lowered groundwater level or “cone of depression” reaches some 65 miles from the city, reduces flows at springs that feed the Suwannee, Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers and lowers levels in lakes in Keystone Heights and surrounding areas.
RETURN WATER TO AQUIFER
Aquifer depletion by JEA is exacerbated by the fact that water that is withdrawn from the aquifer has no way to return to it. In Northeast Florida, the aquifer is “confined” by more than 100 feet of clay that prevents recharge to the aquifer.
In contrast, the city of Gainesville returns 16 million gallons per day back to the aquifer via natural sinkholes and man-made injection wells.
If JEA were to return a similar proportion to the aquifer, its cone of depression would shrink to a radius of less than 45 miles, providing significant relief to the region’s springs, rivers, lakes, and wells.
Net consumption of groundwater is of ultimate importance. For JEA the net consumption is 100 percent, while in Gainesville the net consumption is only one-third of that.
Before used water is returned to the Floridan aquifer, it should be fully treated to safe standards.
Technologies to accomplish remediation of water quality are well-developed in Florida. One such method is constructed wetlands to cleanse wastewater prior to recharging the aquifer.
The cost to JEA ratepayers for this technological fix will not be insignificant. But it will not be unfair or unbearable. In fact, most communities throughout the U.S. pay more than JEA customers for a reliable supply of drinking water.
And bottled water is more than a thousand times as expensive.
BUILD WETLANDS NEAR BALDWIN
The Florida Springs Institute has proposed a viable method of aquifer replenishment — treatment wetlands constructed to the west of the JEA well fields.
JEA currently owns suitable undeveloped lands in western Duval County — such as the Peterson Tract near Baldwin, which could be used for constructed wetlands and aquifer mitigation.
The Springs Institute recommends that JEA, with cost-share funding from the Water Management Districts, begin a large-scale demonstration project showing how constructed groundwater recharge wetlands can make a significant reduction in net groundwater consumption by Jacksonville’s residents.
JEA may argue that it has made great strides in water conservation, and that our recommendation is too expensive.
We acknowledge JEA’s conservation efforts. But they have not been enough to restore natural resource values that are being gutted. JEA simply cannot continue to pump groundwater without regard for the negative impacts of its activities on neighboring regions.
The city can redeem itself by owning up to the detrimental effects that its past and current pumping is inflicting on other innocent parties.
Dying springs, lakes and rivers exact a consequential economic cost for residents and landowners far away from JEA’s water supply wells.
If Jacksonville does take responsibility for its excessive net groundwater consumption, it will be reducing its detrimental impact on local and regional economies outside of Duval County.
Robert L. Knight is director and Robert Ulanowicz is the scientific adviser as volunteers working with the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in Gainesville.