I have been going to SRWMD Governing Board meetings regularly for over 10 years now. The current Governing Board just doesn’t get it. We are in trouble. It hasn’t rained like it was supposed to for over 10 years now. We are out of new, useable, easy-to-access water and the good quality water we have left is quickly running out.
The Suwannee River Water Management District used to be referred to as the Saudi Arabia of water. Now the groundwater that feeds our homes and our lives has dropped to historical low levels. The reports are grim. You can look at them yourself at
Shallow home wells are going dry all over the District. If you need a new well, the deeper you go the worse the water gets. Most have sulfur odor and rust which are expensive to filter and terrible to live with. Even though we are running out of water, the Board hasn’t implemented water conservation restrictions. They just started talking about it in a recent workshop. Every single permit holder should have a conservation plan, yet they aren’t even talking about mandatory conservation for large users.
Thanks to the drought, farmers are using more water than ever and more and more land is being cleared for irrigated crops with new huge irrigation permits issued every month. The District received more permit applications over the last month than it has over the last four months.
Their water use modeling equations tell them that there is still “virtual” water to permit even though this water doesn’t exist in the real world. The models have historical rainfall built into them. The models were supposed to prevent the springs from drying up, but they didn’t.
We have no choice but to deal with it. There is no time left to dither about what to do. A combination of drought and more and more water wells for homes, cities, farms and industry have caused many of our Suwannee springs to quit flowing; White Spring, Falmouth Spring, Convict Spring, Cow Spring, Running Spring, Peacock Springs, Charles Spring, Royal Spring and more. River flows have hit all time lows. Sand lakes have dried up and perched lakes are getting lower every day.
Knowing all of that it was announced that they are still putting off the establishment of critical Minimum Flows and Levels yet again. Back in 2004 the District began serious planning to set Minimum Flows and Levels. They set MFL’s for the Lower Suwannee, Madison Blue Spring and the Upper Santa Fe in 2007-08. They were scheduled to set the rest of the MFL’s for the district in 2009. They put it off.
This week they announced that they would have the Lower Santa Fe River and a couple of lakes done by the end of 2012. They pushed the Middle Suwannee MFL’s out to 2014; even though the Middle Suwannee Springs have completely quit flowing.
There is something else that they put off yet again. No one at the District knows how much water is actually being used by large productions wells (6 inches diameter and larger). According to discussion by the board, one of the reasons that the SRWMD wasn’t able to fight the Jacksonville Electric Authority mega permit was because they didn’t actually know how much water was being used by the largest water users in the District.
It’s past time for them to adopt a rule to require flow meters on large wells, but it was put off for another month. It turns out that no one called the Farm Bureau or the dairy industry lobbyist to see if it was OK, so the diary lobbyist asked to have the decision postponed. He gave several reasons; the cost of the equipment, the cost of monitoring and the loss of freedom from regulations. The Chairman of the Board was actually upset that no one on the SRWMD staff had checked with the Farm Bureau and dairy industry before bringing the rule to the board.
At that point I stood up and interrupted the meeting to find out why lobby groups should get a “head’s up” on what is going to be voted on at the meeting while the rest of the public has to look in the paper and on the website to find out what’s on the agenda.
Staff went on to discuss the agenda item and detailed the “cost share” where the well owner would by 75 percent of the cost of monitoring and the District would pay 25 percent. The District will also purchase the equipment so there will be no cost to the well user. To satisfy the Farm Bureau and the industry lobbyist, the Governing Board voted to postpone the decision until next month. In the end, Chairman Quincy told the staff that I should be notified when other stakeholders are given advanced notice.
That is just wrong. Everybody that uses a water well is an SRWMD stakeholder. We all have a right to use groundwater. Industry and business shouldn’t be given preference over all the other stakeholders in the District.
During the lunch break, the Governing Board reconvened without a secretary or staff to discuss the Executive Director, David Still. Initially it seemed that the board was caught by surprise because Still had tendered his resignation even though the Senate had approved his reappointment that day. At the beginning of the meeting the purpose appeared to be to request a confidence vote and to ask the Executive Director to reconsider his resignation. It was a jumbled mess of a meeting with lots of finger pointing and complaining. No one could decide exactly what an Executive Director should do or shouldn’t do. Following a lengthy session, the board voted to accept his resignation.
It turns out that they actually wanted an Executive Director who spends his time out in the community to convince the public that the Water Management District is doing a good job. At least five of the Governing Board members want a “policy guy” to do damage control rather than an experienced engineer who managed to run the District office on a shoe string budget and who understood the geology, hydrology, state rules, models and current programs at the SRWMD.
We are running out of water. Praying for rain, playing political games and handing out huge water permits isn’t a plan. It’s a recipe for disaster.