The State of Florida Is Overseeing the Death of the Ichetucknee
On May 31, 2015 at 10:17AM, at Ichetucknee Alliance published the following article:
by John Jopling
Last February, members of the Board of Directors of the Ichetucknee Alliance met with Drew Bartlett, deputy secretary of Water Policy and Eco Restoration with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and Ann Shortelle, executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD). At that meeting, we discussed our disappointment that those agencies are failing to preserve and protect the Ichetucknee River and its associated springs. We reminded both people of the quantifiable declines in both flow and water quality in the Ichetucknee during the 45 years that the State of Florida has been the steward of these waters.
We then presented Bartlett and Shortelle with a specific list of recommendations:
- Employ the Precautionary Principle in dealing with the Ichetucknee.
- Educate the public about the degradation of the Ichetucknee.
- Redefine the flow baseline as pre-1960, implement an emergency water shortage order or reservation, and require permitted groundwater users to cut back significantly on their pumping.
- Halt new agricultural development until nitrogen loads have been reduced to acceptable levels.
- Develop Advanced Best Management Practices within the Ichetucknee springshed to achieve a groundwater nitrate-nitrogen concentration of 0.35 mg/L.
- Make the Ichetucknee springshed a Restoration Focus and Demonstration Area, including creation of a comprehensive recovery plan, a moratorium on all new water use permits in the springshed, and a requirement that all existing agricultural and urban fertilizer loads in the springshed be reduced.
We expressed our willingness and ability to help accomplish these goals. In particular, we think the last recommendation—to make the Ichetucknee a Restoration Focus and Demonstration Area—would be a win/win for the state agencies, the Alliance, the residents and the economy of Columbia County, and everyone who comes from throughout Florida, the USA and the world to visit Ichetucknee Springs.
Following our meeting, Shortelle provided us with a lengthy written response that described a patchwork of mostly small-scale water conservation projects throughout the district. As far as we can tell, however, there are neither timelines nor budgets for most of these projects.
Two numbers that Shortelle provided us vividly illustrate the inadequacy of the State of Florida’s present efforts to preserve or restore the flow of the Ichetucknee. At the same time that the flow of these springs is acknowledged by the State to be well below that necessary to maintain ecosystem health, the SRWMD has permitted a cumulative net total of .51 million gallons of water per day to be withdrawn from the Ichetucknee springshed. This equals 1.86 billion gallons of water per year that the District has permitted to be siphoned off from the Ichetucknee in each of the last two years. Against this net water loss, SRWMD can cite only one existing project that is estimated to save 32 million gallons of water per year.
Simply put—and by the District’s own admission of the above-mentioned figures—the Suwannee River Water Management District and the State of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection are not protecting the flow of the Ichetucknee; they are overseeing its death.
Regarding water quality, Shortelle again cites a few conceptual but unfunded projects as well as a few real-world projects that will have a minimal impact on reducing the nitrate pollution in our springs. These projects ignore the unregulated and unmonitored use of agricultural fertilizers in the very areas of the Ichetucknee springshed where the aquifer is most vulnerable. The District’s answer to this problem is to continue to tout ineffectual and voluntary agricultural Best Management Practices. These suggestions are ineffective at reducing nitrate levels in the Ichetucknee.
It is clear to the Ichetucknee Alliance that the responsible agencies of the State of Florida, as stewards of our beloved Ichetucknee springs and river, are either unable or unwilling to fulfill their responsibilities for the restoration, preservation and protection of these outstanding waters.
If we want our grandchildren to enjoy the Ichetucknee, we need to make it clear to our employees in state government that the time for political rhetoric and symbolic gesture is over. Effective solutions for the Ichetucknee’s problems are available; they involve stopping pollution at its source and engaging many more people in water conservation efforts. It is past time to demand such solutions. Failing agency acquiescence to those demands, it is time for us to band together to promote this work ourselves. If you care about the Ichetucknee, we invite you to join us in these efforts.