Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

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SWRMD Dr. Ann Shortelle Writes Guest Editorial About Springs Protection

Dr. Ann B. Shortelle

In today’s Gainesville Sun, Dr. Ann Shortelle,  executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District has written a rebuttle to an earlier editorial “Serious about springs,” in which she disputes certain statements and adds more information she feels was lacking in that article.

Given the indisputable fact that our aquifer is dropping, and that our springs are rapidly deteriorating, many environmentalists would take issue with some of Dr. Shortelle’s statements because they feel that the water districts could and should do much more to protect our water resources.

In our post republishing the Sun’s editorial of September 18, “Serious about springs,”  OSFR wrote:  “The Gainesville Sun has an excellent editorial today describing once again the state’s failure to protect and conserve our water resources.”

Following is Dr. Shortelle’s editorial.  Again, we thank the Sun for permission to republish in its entirety.  The original article can be seen at this link.


Ann B. Shortelle: Springs protection is a top priority

Published: Monday, September 29, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 12:05 a.m.

The Sun’s Sept. 18 editorial, “Serious about springs,” lacks concern for the facts and portrays an unfortunate dismissal of the positive steps taken by the Suwannee River Water Management District to protect and restore our springs. The district’s Governing Board has dedicated members who volunteer their personal time to serve the public to protect our water resources. The health of Florida springs is a serious matter.

This is the second consecutive year the state has provided grant funding for springs restoration and protection projects. As it did last year, the district’s Governing Board held a public workshop May 13 — prior to submitting its proposed springs projects — to gather and consider public input.

The Sun apparently relied upon a recent, but inaccurate, guest column to draw the erroneous conclusion that “the projects were chosen behind closed doors without citizen involvement.” This is simply not true — as the attendees at our public workshops can attest.

It is unfortunate that The Sun’s editorial has an issue with collaboration and the use of public and private funds to expedite projects that will protect and restore springs. Public-private partnerships are extremely advantageous for implementing water conservation, offsetting groundwater withdrawals and reducing nutrient loadings. Such projects initiated since October 2012, and including our newly funded springs projects, are expected to result in:

More than 49 million gallons per day in additional groundwater to improve spring flows;

Reduction of more than 2,050 tons of excess nutrients in local waterways and springs.

The editorial does not acknowledge that all project participants, including local governments and representatives from industry and agriculture, contribute directly to the funding of these projects. The editorial incorrectly states that these public-private partnerships continue “without requiring them to change the behaviors that degrade our springs.” The Suwannee River Water Management District revises water-use permits with the implementation of these partnerships to reflect the benefits of the projects.

Again, the health of Florida springs is a serious matter. That’s why, for the first time since 2007, the Suwannee River Water Management District recently introduced minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for the Ichetucknee and Lower Santa Fe rivers and 16 priority springs. The MFL science shows the water bodies and priority springs need help. A plan has been developed to restore spring flows including emphasis on water conservation, water supply projects and a rule to address the MFLs in the context of water use permitting in both districts.

The rule and road to recovery for the Ichetucknee and Lower Santa Fe rivers was challenged. It is important to note the administrative law judge upheld the district’s science and the recovery approach, while only one portion of the rule dealing with the river MFLs needed clarification. This would have been the first inter-district MFL in the state, and an important tool in the cross-boundary solutions for those water resources. The districts will continue to implement the non-rule portions of the recovery strategy, and several of the springs projects will provide benefits to these resources.

Scientific data remains critical to the goal of protecting and restoring Florida’s springs. In the last year, the Suwannee River Water Management District has increased monitoring of groundwater quality by 30 percent and surface waters by more than 20 percent. With the assistance of the Department of Environmental Protection and the United States Geological Survey, the district added continuous monitoring of the flow and water quality at five priority springs. We also launched the Manatee Springs online dashboard — a web-based resource featuring real-time data — with additional first-magnitude springs to be added in the coming months.

Although much is being done, there is more work to do. We must continue to take serious actions with our springs to safeguard their health while ensuring an adequate water supply for years to come. We all leave a footprint, yet through collaboration and shared solutions I remain confident that we can accomplish this goal.

Protecting and restoring our springs remains a top priority, and it is important to celebrate each successful project as a positive step forward.

Ann B. Shortelle is executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District.


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