Failing to limit groundwater pumping ensures our region’s depleted and polluted springs will only get worse.*
Hats off to Nathan Crabbe and the Gainesville Sun for letting the people know that our water managers are remiss in their duties. They are not managing the water, they are trying to serve our governor and big water users, and they are not stopping the constant downward spiral of our aquifer. And our water resources are dying on their watch.
Our impaired waterways are not being restored. As one naive manager recently said when confronted with this fact; “The springs are still flowing.” Indeed they are (most, but not all,) but not like they should be, and they are sick. Nathan Crabbe is not a water scientist, but, rational being that he is, he can look at this plan and see that, in the real world, it is not going to serve our resources as it should.
As we have said so many times before, we know the problem (over-pumping) and we know the solution (reduce groundwater withdrawals,) but we lack the commitment to fix it.
*Unfortunately, the sad state of caring for Florida’s dwindling water resources is not likely to change as long as we have the mind-set which we see in some administrative law judges, as in the case of the Sleepy Creek Lands, LLC, and St. Johns River Water Management District challenged by Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeepr, Florida Defenders of the Environment, Karen Ahlers and Jeri Baldwin.
In this incredulous case, Judge E. Gary Early wrote the following as a reason for granting the harmful withdrawal :
316. Although Sleepy Creek could operate a typical Florida
cattle ranch on the property without irrigation, such a use
would entail shipping calves to the mid-west for fattening,
slaughter, and processing, thus eliminating the benefits of
those activities to the Florida job-market and economy.
Although there was no evidence of the number of full-time and
part-time jobs that would be necessary to support the grass-fed
beef production and processing operation, the undersigned can
reasonably infer that the number of jobs will be substantial.
Here we have clear proof that this man values a few jobs and profit for foreign-owned Sleepy Creek more than a natural and healthy Silver Springs.
312. The preponderance of the evidence in this case,
including the Irrigation Demand Analysis and the Water
Conservation Plan, demonstrates that the proposed use of water
by Sleepy Creek is necessary for the economic and efficient
utilization of the Sleepy Creek grass-fed cattle ranch.
Due to the fact that grass-fed beef cattle cannot be fed with
grain or feed other than green forage crops, irrigation is necessary
to provide the reliability and quality of forage crops to support
Again, this presupposes the fact that Frank Stronach, owner of Sleepy Creek, has the right to bring cattle to Florida and demand water to irrigate grass for them, even if depleting one of the state’s major springs. This is outrageous and unacceptable.
Finally one more statement by Judge Early reveals his thinking when he concocts reasons for granting this devastating withdrawal permit:
324. The preponderance of the evidence in this case,
including the series of three APTs performed by Sleepy Creek and
the District, demonstrates that the upper Floridan aquifer is capable
of producing the requested amounts of water.
This statement shows similarity to the water manager who said “the springs are still flowing,” with the implication that as long as there is some water there, we should not worry.
As Nathan Crabbe says below, there is really no way to combat this type of thinking– we must simply replace them. And the sooner the better.
So again we will say, as long as managers/judges/authorities of this ilk control our water resources, there is little chance that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to enjoy the springs and rivers in any resemblance to what we have today.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Editorial: Water plan is wholly inadequate
Posted Jan 18, 2017 at 9:38 AM Updated Jan 19, 2017 at 8:51 AM
The North Florida Regional Water Supply plan can be seen as just the latest effort that uses the illusion of good science to ensure that the groundwater keeps flowing.
Officials from the two water management districts covering Alachua County want credit for working together to plan for the region’s future water needs.
Unfortunately their work spends hundreds of pages avoiding the politically difficult prospect of turning down big water users who seek permission to keep pumping.
On Tuesday, the governing boards of the St. Johns River and Suwannee River water management districts voted to approve the North Florida Regional Water Supply plan. The plan is the first joint planning efforts between the districts.
The plan looks at how much water is needed in 2035 and identifies projects to ensure those needs are met. It avoids the idea of reducing groundwater pumping to protect our region’s springs and other water resources, instead proposing expensive engineering solutions.
Members of the Florida Springs Council, a coalition of 40 environmental groups, demonstrated against the plan before its passage. Members of some of these groups have outlined their objections in The Sun’s opinion pages over the last several weeks, making a compelling case that the plan is wholly inadequate.
As Robert Knight of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute wrote, the 487-page plan lacks a single mention of reducing the amount of water pumped from the Floridan aquifer. Instead, he wrote that the plan is just “a vague prediction of impending disaster, followed by the reassurance that if we spend enough public dollars to engineer costly projects, the ‘future’ water resource catastrophe can be temporarily avoided.”
The plan projects a 117 million gallons per day (mgd) increase in water demand in the region by 2035. It finds that conservation efforts that could potentially reduce demand by as much 54 mgd and identifies another 160 mgd of potential water supply options such as aquifer recharge and wetlands rehydration projects.
These projects amount to public subsidizes of major water users rather than making them cut back. And those subsidies aren’t cheap. The plan estimates $390 million will be spent on projects to meet future needs.
Failing to limit groundwater pumping ensures our region’s depleted and polluted springs will only get worse. As Jim Gross of Florida Defenders of the Environment wrote, a ceiling on overall pumping is needed if we intend to protect our freshwater resources.
The plan “does little to dispel the myth that Florida has unlimited freshwater at hand,” he wrote.
Water district and utility officials deserve some credit for increasing the use of reclaimed water and implementing conservation measures that have prevented a spike in demand despite population increases. But we’re going to have to do more than small-ball conservation measures such as installing low-flush toilets if we really want to protect our environmental resources.
In the end, the voters who twice elected Scott and keep electing state lawmakers with the same disdain for the environment are to blame. Until we work together to throw out the politicians responsible for draining our water resources, we’ll keep getting big plans that do little to solve the problem.
– This editorial was written by Gainesville Sun opinion editor Nathan Crabbe and represents the opinion of The Sun’s editorial board.