Springs expert: Water-management district needs a new leader

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The Orlando Sentinel has published an opinion piece by Dr. Robert Knight calling for new leadership in the St Johns River Water Management District.  This district is beset with controversy, as ethics charges have also been leveled on the board chairman, John Miklos.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life:  once taken, it cannot be brought back-

Springs expert: Water-management district needs a new leader

Robert Knight
My Word columnist

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Ann Shortelle, executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, in a May 5 letter to the editor, informed Orlando Sentinel readers that “protecting Florida’s springs is a year-round focus for the St. Johns River Water Management District.” While this sounds like a wonderful mission, the district’s actions to date leave much to be desired for our springs, and Shortelle’s empty promises to the public demand a response.

The private, nonprofit Florida Springs Institute that I direct has become the leading springs fact-checker since


Gov. Rick Scott abolished the state’s Springs Initiative in 2011. After years of futile requests that Florida’s water-management districts inventory exactly how much groundwater is needed to protect the state’s 1,000-plus springs, FSI filled this vital knowledge gap by assessing the overall water balance for the entire Floridan Aquifer and the spring flows it supports.

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The results validated the public’s ongoing observations of devastating declines in spring flows throughout North and Central Florida. The 151 documented artesian springs in the St. Johns River basin have lost more than 275 million gallons per day of average flow, equivalent to drying up more than four first magnitude springs the size of Silver Glen Springs in the Ocala National Forest. Florida’s 1,000-plus springs have collectively lost more than 3 billion gallons per day, or 32 percent of their former average flows.


Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute.

In Shortelle’s district, the overall springs flow decline is 22 percent, and estimated average annual groundwater pumping is nearly 1 billion gallons. Silver Springs, historically the largest spring in Florida in terms of flow, has lost between 30 percent and 40 percent of its former flow, reducing this famous spring group to a shadow of its natural function and aesthetic beauty. Compare this documented flow decline to a finding by district staff that anything more than a 5 percent flow reduction will cause significant harm to the water and human-resource values of Silver Springs, and the absurdity of Shortelle’s written and spoken words is clear.

In response to this devastating loss of flow, the St. Johns River district governing board, with the full support of its executive director, has approved an even lower minimum flow for Silver Springs that will result in additional environmental and economic harm. In the face of several legal challenges to this distressing decision brought by concerned citizens and environmental organizations, the district is using taxpayer revenues to fight the very public’s interest it was employed to protect.

Florida’s springs, and the citizens who appreciate a healthy aquatic environment, need leaders who can protect their future health and welfare from the special interests that profit from over-pumping and polluting the Floridan Aquifer. The governance of the St. Johns River Water Management District is not fulfilling its mandate to manage the public’s water resources for the best interests of current and future residents and tourists.

If Shortelle, and the governing board she answers to, cannot fulfill this basic function, they should be replaced by public servants who will stop the bleeding from Florida’s liquid heart.

Robert Knight has studied Florida’s springs over the past 40 years. He is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute and author of “Silenced Springs — Moving from Tragedy to Hope.” To learn more about Florida’s springs, visit the North Florida Springs Environmental Center in High Springs.

Copyright © 2017, Orlando Sentinel

1 Comment

  1. Unfortunately, all of these water “managers” are appointed directly by the governor, who right now is firm in his belief that proper water management and, in general, environmental oversight, serve only to impede economic development which, in his mind, is paramount. All we have actually defending the environment are the interested individuals and environmental groups, which are toothless without big numbers of people behind them. It is imperative that everyone get loud and persistent.

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