Tag Archives: St. John’s River Water Management District

Celebrating the Life of John Henry Hankinson, Jr.

John Hankinson0002
John Henry Hankinson, Jr.

Florida lost an environmental giant on March 3rd when John Henry Hankinson, Jr. died.  On March 7, 2017 hundreds gathered at the Fort King Presbyterian Church in Ocala, FL for a celebration of his life. The service included not only friends and family, but environmental leaders from across the state and Southeast region of the United States.

 

During the “Celebration of Life” service, Hankinson was called a modern day Da Vinci,  a patriot and an environmental land use visionary and leader of the environmental protection movement.

He was described as a good husband and father who raised two sons and a person who could make people laugh and dream.

In an email read at the service former EPA Director, Carol Browner, described Hankinson as “a good friend to me and many, many others and mentor to untold number of conservationists.  He lived large and he lived well.”

Manley Fuller, Executive Director of the Florida Wildlife Federation, described Hankinson as, “someone who could disarm people with his humor and his brilliant dry wit…He was a brilliant conservation advocate who functioned at a high level but, with the common touch, he could comfortably negotiate complex deals for clean water with captains of industry or sit down and find common ground with regular folks along Florida’s waterways or around the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”

See pictures and hear music from the celebration of life service below:

 

John Hankinson 9
John Hankinson shaking hands with President Barack Obama

John’s most recent position was the Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force where he worked with 11 federal agencies and five states to develop strategy for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  It’s my understanding he was selected for the position by former President Barack Obama.

He has also served as the Regional Administrator of the EPA’s office in Atlanta overseeing federal wetland regulation and state implementation of delegated Clean Water Act programs in eight southern states.

Closer view of bayfront
Apalachicola Bayfront

His work included promoting comprehensive watershed and coastal aquatic ecosystem management including the Florida Everglades, National Estuary Programs, and efforts to establish a compact for the Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint (ACF) River System.  The list of awards for his accomplishments is long.

DSC08176

 

Before working for the EPA he held the position of Director of Planning and Acquisition at the St. John’s River Water Management District in Florida. In that capacity he helped the state acquire more than 200,000 acres of environmentally important lands.

Early in his career Hankinson told me he was inspired by the environmental activism of Marjorie Harris Carr.  Carr is best known for her work at helping stop the construction of the now defunct Cross Florida Barge Canal.  Even though the project came to a halt, there are dams on either side of the state, the Inglis Locke on the Gulf Side and the Kirkpatrick Dam (better known as the Rodman Dam)  between  the St. John’s and Ocklawaha Rivers.

cross-florida-barge-canal
Cross Florida Barge Canal

In 1996 I produced a series on the Cross Florida Barge Canal controversy when the federal government gave money back to each of the counties who had contributed to the dream for the “Big Ditch.”   To hear John Hankinson’s comments about Marjorie Carr click on segment 5 of my Cross Florida Barge Canal Series entitled, “Remembering Marjorie Carr.”

Hankinson continued the efforts of Carr as he worked for years trying to restore the Ocklawaha River to be a free flowing system.  At times it seemed as if it would really happen as various governors and numerous environmental groups supported the idea.  But each time supporters thought the dam would finally be removed, state lawmakers pushed back.  Leading the opposition for many years was the late State Senator George Kirkpatrick who loved to fish on the Rodman Reservoir.

On the day I interviewed Hankinson for the series in 1997 he was in town for the first official “Undam the Dam Jam” held at the Cousin Thelma Boltin Center in Gainesville.   I can still recall how as we sat outside for our interview, a plane circled above us pulling a banner that read, “Save the Rodman.”  It was as if the opponents of the restoration effort knew I was talking to Hankinson and decided to disturb our interview.  We both got a pretty good laugh out of the scenario above us as I couldn’t keep interviewing him without picking up the sound of the plane overhead.  You can hear his comments in segment 6 of the series listed above.

Former Florida Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay spoke at the service and described Hankinson’s determination to “Free the Ocklawaha.”

DSC08170Hankinson loved playing music and was an avid blues harmonica player with several bands including the band known as Johnny Matanzas and the Hombres as well as the band called, The Non Essentials.

On the morning of March 7th, 2017 John Henry Hankinson, Jr.’s body was laid to rest at Prairie Creek Cemetery near Micanopy , FL.

In lieu of flowers, his family suggested a donation be made to Florida Defenders of the Environment for the John H. Hankinson, Jr. Ocklawaha River Restoration Fund.  (put on bottom of the check).  The address is P.O. Box 357086, Gainesville, FL  32635.

John Henry Hankinson, Jr.   May 8, 1948 – March 3, 2017

RIP John

 

To read two other interesting articles about Hankinson’s legacy go to the Orlando Sentinel at the following link:

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-john-hankinson-environmentalist-death-20170306-story.html

Another interesting article:

https://flaglerlive.com/105435/john-hankinson-jr/

 

Protest planned over Sleepy Creek water permit request

This site continues to follow various updates on water permit requests from the former Adena Springs Ranch (now Sleepy Creek Lands in Marion County), a cattle operation owned by Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach. Scroll down for various stories, pictures, audio and video from the past several years)

UPDATE:  Protest planned over Sleepy Creek water permit request

On Tuesday,  protesters plan  to show up at the district headquarters of the St. John’s River Water Management District in Palatka to voice their concerns over the approval by the SJRWMD board to allow Sleepy Creek Lands to pump more than a million more gallons a day for the next six years for billionaire Frank Stronach’s cattle operation.

The Governing Board of the water management district will be meeting at 11 a.m. on the issue at 4049 Reid Street in Palatka.

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Adena Protest 3
Sign from earlier protests to stop Frank Stronach and Adena Springs Ranch from pumping groundwater for his cattle operation

On December 14th, 2016 the St. John’s River Water Management District Board issued a notice that it was granting a permit request to Sleepy Creek Lands LLC (formerly Adena Springs Ranch) to increase groundwater pumping.

Here is the essence of the approval: 

Sleepy Creek Lands LLC, 15045 NW 141st Ct, Williston, FL 32696-7446. Consumptive Use Permit application #91926-4. Project known as Sleepy Creek Lands North and East Tracts. This is an application for modification of an existing permit with a request for an additional 1.12 million gallons per day (mgd) of groundwater for agricultural use and a new allocation of 0.14 mgd for a new commercial/industrial use. The District proposes to allocate a total of 2.54 mgd of roundwater from the Upper Floridan aquifer for pasture irrigation, crop irrigation, and livestock use and 0.14 mgd for commercial/industrial use for years 2017 through 2023.

See below for the full text of the approval notification sent out to interested parties:

December 14, 2016

Subject: Notice of District Decision to Grant Permit Application(s) In Marion County

The staff of the St. Johns River Water Management District has completed their review of the permit application(s) described below. Based on this review, the District gives notice of its decision for the application(s) described below.

The District gives notice of its decision to Grant a permit for the following

application(s):

 Sleepy Creek Lands LLC, 15045 NW 141st Ct, Williston, FL 32696-7446. Consumptive Use Permit application #91926-4. Project known as Sleepy Creek Lands North and East Tracts. This is an application for modification of an existing permit with a request for an additional 1.12 million gallons per day (mgd) of groundwater for agricultural use and a new allocation of 0.14 mgd for a new commercial/industrial use. The District proposes to allocate a total of 2.54 mgd of groundwater from the Upper Floridan aquifer for pasture irrigation, crop irrigation, and livestock use and 0.14 mgd for commercial/industrial use for years 2017 through 2023. For years 2024 through 2034, the permitted allocation will reduce to the current permitted allocation of 1.46 mgd. There is no change in the duration of the permit. The withdrawals used by this proposed project will consist of groundwater from FAS-Upper Floridan Aquifer via the following wells: one irrigation well located in Section: 25; Township: 13 South, Range: 23 East (East Tract/Ft McCoy Farms); seven irrigation wells located in Sections: 24, 26, Township: 13 South, Range: 23 East (East Tract/Jones Turf-Grass Farm); two commercial/industrial wells, ten cattle wells and fourteen irrigation wells located in Sections: 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11; Township: 13 South, Range: 23 East; Sections 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34, 35, Township: 12 South, Range: 23 East, (North Tract).

If you wish to receive a copy of a Technical Staff Report (TSR) that provides the District staff’s analysis of a permit application, please submit your request to:

Director, Office of Business and Administrative Services, P.O. Box 1429, Palatka, FL 32178-1429. You may also review it by going to the Permitting section of the District’s website at sjrwmd.com/permitting/index.html.

To obtain information on how to find and view a TSR or other permit application file documents, visit https://permitting.sjrwmd.com/epermitting/html/EP_FAQs.html and then follow the directions provided under “How to find a Technical Staff Report (TSR) or other application file documents.”

The file(s) containing the permit application(s) and TSR(s) are also available for inspection Monday through Friday, except for District holidays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at District Headquarters, 4049 Reid St., Palatka, FL 32177-2529. You may also view files at one of the District’s service centers, but you should call service center staff in advance to make sure that the files are at a specific service center. Service center contact information is available online at jrwmd.com/contactus/offices.html.

If you wish to do so, please refer to the attached Notice of Rights to determine any legal rights you may have concerning the District’s decision (s) on the application(s) described in this letter.

CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE

I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing Notice of Rights was sent at or before 5 p.m. on December 14, 2016.

Margaret Daniels, Office Director Office of Business and Administrative Services,

St. Johns River Water Management District

4049 Reid Street, Palatka, FL 32177-2529

(386) 329-4570

Permit Number: 91926-4

Notice Of Rights

  1. A person whose substantial interests are or may be affected has the right to request an administrative hearing by filing a written petition with the St. Johns River Water Management District (District). Pursuant to Chapter 28-106 and Rule 40C-1.1007, Florida Administrative Code, the petition must be filed (received) either by delivery at the office of the District Clerk at District Headquarters, P. O. Box 1429, Palatka Florida 32178-1429 (4049 Reid St., Palatka, FL 32177) or by e-mail with the District Clerk at Clerk@sjrwmd.com, within twenty-six (26) days of the District depositing the notice of intended District decision in the mail (for those persons to whom the District mails actual notice), within twenty-one (21) days of the District emailing the notice of intended District decision (for those persons to whom the District emails actual notice), or within twentyone (21) days of newspaper publication of the notice of intended District decision (for those persons to whom the District does not mail or email actual notice). A petition must comply with Sections 120.54(5)(b)4. and 120.569(2)(c), Florida Statutes, and Chapter 28-106, Florida Administrative Code. The District will not accept a petition sent by facsimile (fax), as explained in paragraph no. 5 below.
  1. If the District takes action that substantially differs from the notice of intended District decision, a person whose substantial interests are or may be affected has the right to request an administrative hearing by filing a written petition with the District, but this request for administrative hearing shall only address the substantial deviation. Pursuant to Chapter 28-106 and Rule 40C-1.1007, Florida Administrative Code, the petition must be filed (received) at the office of the District Clerk at the mail/street address or email address described in paragraph no. 1 above, within twenty-six (26) days of the District depositing notice of final District decision in the mail (for those persons to whom the District mails actual notice), within twenty-one (21) days of the District emailing the notice of final District decision (for those persons to whom the District emails actual notice), or within twenty-one (21) days of newspaper publication of the notice of final District decision (for those persons to whom the District does not mail or email actual notice). A petition must comply with Sections 120.54(5)(b)4. and 120.569(2)(c), Florida Statutes, and Chapter 28-106, Florida Administrative Code.
  1. Please be advised that if you wish to dispute this intended District decision, mediation may be available and that choosing mediation does not affect your right to an administrative hearing. If you wish to request mediation, you must do so in a timely-filed petition. If all parties, including the District, agree to the details of the mediation procedure, in writing, within 10 days after the time period stated in the announcement for election of an administrative remedy under Sections 120.569 and 120.57, Florida Statutes, the time limitations imposed by Sections 120.569 and 120.57, Florida Statutes, shall be tolled to allow mediation of the disputed intended District decision. The mediation must be concluded within 60 days of the date of the parties’ written agreement, or such other timeframe agreed to by the parties in writing. Any mediation agreement must include provisions for selecting a mediator, a statement that each party shall be responsible for paying its pro-rata share of the costs and fees associated with mediation, and the mediating parties’ understanding regarding the confidentiality of discussions and documents introduced during mediation. If mediation results in settlement of the administrative dispute, the District will enter a final order consistent with the settlement agreement. If mediation terminates without settlement of the dispute, the District will notify all the parties in writing that the administrative hearing process under Sections 120.569 and 120.57, Florida Statutes, is resumed. Even if a party chooses not to engage in formal mediation, or if formal mediation does not result in a settlement agreement, the District will remain willing to engage in informal settlement discussions.

Notice Of Rights

  1. A person whose substantial interests are or may be affected has the right to an informal administrative hearing pursuant to Sections 120.569 and 120.57(2), Florida Statutes, where no material facts are in dispute. A petition for an informal hearing must also comply with the requirements set forth in Rule 28-106.301, Florida Administrative Code.
  1. A petition for an administrative hearing is deemed filed upon receipt of the complete petition by the District Clerk at the District Headquarters in Palatka, Florida during the District’s regular business hours. The District’s regular business hours are 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., excluding weekends and District holidays. Petitions received by the District Clerk after the District’s regular business hours shall be deemed filed as of 8:00 a.m. on the District’s next regular business day. The District’s acceptance of petitions filed by email is subject to certain conditions set forth in the District’s Statement of Agency Organization and Operation (issued pursuant to Rule 28-101.001, Florida Administrative Code), which is available for viewing at www.sjrwmd.com. These conditions include, but are not limited to, the petition being in the form of a PDF or TIFF file and being capable of being stored and printed by the District. Further, pursuant to the District’s Statement of Agency Organization and Operation, attempting to file a petition by facsimile is prohibited and shall not constitute filing.
  1. Failure to file a petition for an administrative hearing within the requisite timeframe shall constitute a waiver of the right to an administrative hearing. (Rule 28-106.111, Florida Administrative Code).
  1. The right to an administrative hearing and the relevant procedures to be followed are governed by Chapter 120, Florida Statutes, Chapter 28-106, Florida Administrative Code, and Rule 40C-1.1007, Florida Administrative Code. Because the administrative hearing process is designed to formulate final agency action, the filing of a petition means the District’s final action may be different from the position taken by it in this notice. A person whose substantial interests are or may be affected by the District’s final action has the right to become a party to the proceeding, in accordance with the requirements set forth above.
  1. Pursuant to Section 120.68, Florida Statutes, a party to the proceeding before the District who is adversely affected by final District action may seek review of the action in the District Court of Appeal by filing a notice of appeal pursuant to Rules 9.110 and 9.190, Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, within 30 days of the rendering of the final District action.
  1. A District action is considered rendered, as referred to in paragraph no. 8 above, after it is signed on behalf of the District and filed by the District Clerk. Failure to observe the relevant timeframes for filing a petition for judicial review as described in paragraph no. 8 above will result in waiver of that right to review.

NOR.Intended Decision.DOC.001

Revised 12.7.11

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SleepCreekLands_smlUPDATE: July 19, 2015

Editorial from the Ocala Star Banner

IN OUR OPINION  Editorial: No surprise

Published: Sunday, July 19, 2015 at 6:30 a.m.

Last Modified: Friday, July 17, 2015 at 6:57 p.m.

When the St. Johns River Water Management Governing Board voted unanimously this week to approve a permit allowing Sleepy Creek Lands to pump 1.46 million gallons a day from the aquifer to irrigate pasturelands for grass-fed cattle, the reaction was predictably mixed.

Opponents, who had fought in the town square and the courtroom for more than three years to block the permit, were obviously disappointed.

Supporters of the permit were surely relieved, although far from celebratory, since they have more permits to go, with actual resistance from water managers.

And then there was resignation by the general public. Of course, the permit was approved. They always — always — are, even when an iconic natural asset like Silver Springs is threatened by said permit.

Amazingly, the board said it based its unanimous vote on “science.” Water district scientists said the “science” showed the Sleepy Creek withdrawal would not harm the aquifer, Silver Springs, the Silver River or the Ocklawaha River.

What seemed to be omitted, forgotten or simply ignored, are the dozens of scientific studies that show Silver Springs’ flow is down one-third from historical levels, its nitrate levels are 3½ times the state limits, and algae covers most of the spring and river floors. We wonder where that science was as the water board deliberated.

And never mind that, while Sleepy Creek officials reduced their request from 13 million gallons a day to 1.46 million gallons — with more requests to come, we might add — they also acquired farms in neighboring counties in order to spread their operation and need for water around. So, in the end, Sleepy Creek is using far more than 1.46 million gallons a day across North Florida.

 (click here to see the rest of the Ocala Star Banner editorial)

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July 14th, 2015

Controversial water permit for ranch operation wins state approval

By Kevin Spear  Orlando Sentinel  contact the reporter

A Marion County ranch gets permits to pump from aquifer near Silver Springs.

A water permit linked to the declining health of Silver Springs and fiercely opposed by a broad coalition of environmentalists and Central Florida residents was approved Tuesday by state regulators.

The St. Johns River Water Management District will allow the pumping of nearly 1.5 million gallons a day by Sleepy Creek Lands, a ranch operation in Marion County owned by Canadian industrialist and billionaire Frank Stronach.

The permit application had been contested in a trial-like administrative hearing conducted by the state last year, which resulted in a judge’s siding with Stronach.

Action at the district’s headquarters in Palatka had been widely expected to be a formal ratification of the judge’s decision.

But dozens of impassioned speakers on Tuesday called on the agency’s board to deny a permit for Sleepy Creek as certain to cause further injury to Silver Springs, which is the source of Silver River at the west edge of Ocala National Forest.

“We think you are not protecting our water,” said Whitey Markle, a Sierra Club member, directing forceful comments toward the agency’s board members. “We hope you follow the science and realize we are running out of water.”

The 18-county district, which spans from the Orlando area to Jacksonville, has previously disclosed evidence that Silver Springs is in trouble because of heavy pumping from the Floridan Aquifer by cities and agriculture.

That finding was the basis of the water district’s determining that it would reject a second water permit sought by Sleepy Creek.

But that background was excluded from debate Tuesday because of legal formalities stemming from the administrative hearing.

Supporters of agriculture said approval of the Sleepy Creek permit would stand as important precedent for the viability of ranching in Florida

(click here to see the rest of the Orlando Sentinel story)

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July 14, 2015
St. Johns River Water Management District
News Release
CONTACT: Hank Largin:  407-659-4836 Office
(352)255-7168 (cell)
hlargin@sjrwmd.com

Board follows administrative law judge recommendation, approves Sleepy Creek permit

PALATKA, Fla., July 14, 2015 — Following the recommendation of an administrative law judge (ALJ), the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Governing Board today approved a consumptive use permit (CUP) modification for Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch) for use in their cattle operation in Marion County.

Sleepy Creek Lands currently holds two CUPs that authorize the use of 1.46 million gallons of water per day (mgd) for irrigation of sod on a property known as the East Tract, south of Fort McCoy in Marion County. The permit modification approves the consolidation of these permits into one permit that will expire in 2034. It also authorizes Sleepy Creek to change the use of the water to irrigation for pasture to feed cattle, but does not result in an increase in the allocation (1.46 mgd). Finally, the modification allows Sleepy Creek to withdraw the entire allocation from a property known as the North Tract and limits withdrawals on the East Tract to no more than 0.5 mgd (of the 1.46 mgd). The North Tract is located further away from Silver Springs than the East Tract.

Before the Board meeting, the District’s executive director approved an environmental resource permit (ERP) for Sleepy Creek authorizing the construction of a stormwater management system that will provide water quality treatment for runoff from the North Tract. The ALJ had also recommended approval of the ERP following an administrative challenge.

District staff recommended approval of the permits in 2014 following a lengthy review. On June 2, 2014, the District received petitions challenging the proposed CUP modification and ERP. The District referred the petitions to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). An administrative hearing was held in Palatka Aug. 25-29, 2014.

In approving the permits today, the District’s decision was required by law to be based solely on the record of the administrative proceedings.

“Our Board carefully reviewed the recommendation from the administrative law judge before concluding that the District should approve the CUP permit modification,” said Governing Board Chairman John Miklos.

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 JUNE 18, 2015

On July 14th the St. John’s River Water Management District Governing Board plans to issue a final order to approve or deny the comprehensive use plan from Sleepy Creek Lands to consolidate two existing sod farm water permits (CUPs) and the addition of another 1.46 million gallons of water per day on those two tracts.  On April 29, 2015, an administrative law judge issued a recommended order that the District issue Sleepy Creek the consumptive use permit (CUP).  The regular July meeting of the SJRWMD Governing Board will be held in Palatka.

(From the SJRWMD website:  Background)

The District received a CUP application on Dec. 2, 2011, for the Adena Springs Ranch, which has since changed its name to Sleepy Creek Lands. Through the review process that included three formal Requests for Additional Information (RAI) from the District, the applicant amended its application. The requested allocation for new groundwater was reduced from an original 13 mgd to 1.12 mgd. Sleepy Creek Lands also requested the consolidation of two of its existing CUPs and the use of 1.46 mgd of groundwater on the North and East tracts. If issued, the combined total for both the new and existing groundwater allocations would be 2.58 mgd.

Meanwhile, environmentalists across the state remain concerned about the fragility and decline of Silver Springs and say they are worried about the impact of first phase plans for 9,500 head of cattle in the Silver Springs watershed.  Groups such as Florida Defenders of the Environment and the St. John’s Riverkeeper organization say Florida’s iconic Silver Springs would continue to be degraded from the over-pumping of groundwater and increased nutrient pollution from cow manure.  They are also alarmed at the recent abrupt departure of four senior staffers from the SJRWMD, calling it evidence of further erosion of water quality protections in Florida.

 

UPDATE: May 8, 2015

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Glass-bottom boat on Silver Springs in 2010 (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)
Four senior staff resign from water management district

By Jim Waymer

FLORIDA TODAY  May 8, 2015

Four senior staff resigned this week from the state agency tasked with guarding the St. Johns River, the Indian River Lagoon and surrounding waters and wetlands.

And the shakeup at the St. Johns River Water Management District has some conservationists fearing the worst for Florida’s waters.

“I think it’s very clearly an orchestrated effort to strip the district of it’s most knowledgeable people,” said Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon Florida. “It’s part of the moving front to disassemble, dumb down and render less effective the environmental agencies in Florida.”

The St. Johns district encompasses all or part of 18 counties — including Brevard — from just north of Jacksonville to just south of Vero Beach, to just west of Gainesville. The district oversees permits to pump water from the ground, lakes and rivers for homes, agriculture and businesses within a region of more than 5 million people.

The district’s acting executive director, Mike Register, declined to say why the four resigned.  Click here to see the rest of the story

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Environmentalists vow to fight ruling they say threatens Silver Springs
By  (from Florida Politics.com)

Florida environmental groups say they’ll keep fighting after an administrative law judge approved a plan for a ng>cattle operation they say threatens the state’s iconic Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha River Aquatic Preserve.

“The 9,500 head of cattle planned … will produce nearly 158 million pounds of manure and 11 million gallons of urine per year. In addition, 700,000 pounds of nitrogen from fertilizer will be used to grow grass and crops to feed the cattle,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman.

“Our experts and attorneys presented evidence that the aquifer is critically over-tapped in the Silver Springs springshed, and that the fertilizer and manure will increase nutrient pollution in the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers.”

Rinaman and the St. Johns Riverkeeper organization have joined with the Sierra Club and other parties in a legal challenge to Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach.

Stronach is one of Marion County’s largest landowners. He had asked the St. Johns River Water Management District for permission to move water rights involving his cattle operation at Sleepy Creek Lands from sod farms to a larger cattle ranch a few miles north.

A granted permit would approve the pumping of 1.46 million gallons a day from the Floridan Aquifer. The water would be used for the first phase of a multiphase beef operation.

Administrative Law Judge Gary Early ruled Wednesday in Stronach’s favor, saying petitioners have failed to prove the water withdrawal threatens the environment.

The SJRWMD Governing Board will vote on the permit at an upcoming meeting. However, environmentalists across the state are also alarmed at news this week that four senior staffers are abruptly departing the SJRWMD, calling it evidence of further erosion of water quality protections in Florida.

The fragility and decline of Silver Springs has long been a clarion call for environmentalists in the Sunshine State, and has received national publicity.

“One of the most troubling parts of the judge’s conclusions is his finding that the proposed withdrawal is ‘consistent with the public interest.’ Allowing our over-pumped aquifer and polluted waterways to be further degraded for the economic benefit of a private landowner is completely contrary to the public interest,” Rinaman said.

The Riverkeeper and other groups say they’ll demonstrate opposition to the permit  when the SJRWMD Governing Board meets to vote on the permit.

Gallery Photos below taken by Donna Green-Townsend

 

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May 6, 2015
Central Florida’s water agency roils with resignations

Simultaneous and unexplained departures by four executives from the agency that protects Central Florida’s wetlands, rivers and aquifer triggered complaints Wednesday that the moves were orchestrated to weaken the region’s environmental safeguards.

Two of the four executives said in resignation letters they were leaving rather than be fired by the St. Johns River Water Management District, which already was roiling from the earlier resignation of its executive director. The four had a combined 89 years of service at the agency, and all had excellent or high marks in performance reviews.  click here to see more of this story by:  Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel:

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May 5, 2015

Response has been swift from the Head of Florida Defenders of the Environment Karen Ahlers to an administrative law judge’s recommendation to the St. John’s River Water Management District to approve a comprehensive use plan by Sleepy Creek Lands……

(press release from Florida Defenders of the Environment)

RULING BY JUDGE THREATENS SILVER SPRINGS

Judge recommends approval for controversial cattle operation

10633303_10203815025628810_6473468823863861965_o
Posters from a recent protest rally on the Silver River

SILVER SPRINGS, FL — Despite evidence that Florida’s iconic Silver Springs would be further degraded from the over-pumping of groundwater and increased nutrient pollution, an Administrative Law Judge has recommended approval of a permit for the massive cattle operation, Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch). The Judge’s ruling is the result of a legal challenge by Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and two citizens, Jeri Baldwin and Karen Ahlers. Florida Defenders of the Environment also supported this challenge as an Intervener.

Sleepy Creek Lands and its owner, Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach, are seeking a permit to pump 1.46 million gallons a day (mgd) from the already-stressed Floridan Aquifer for the first phase of a multi-phase beef operation located close to Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha River Aquatic Preserve. The proposed project has created uproar from concerned citizens throughout the state.

“The declining health of Silver Springs is emblematic of the significant water quality and water use problems we are facing throughout Florida,” says Karen Ahlers. “The Sleepy Creek permit represents everything that is wrong with our regulatory process and the way we allocate the public’s water, and is a classic example of the state’s ongoing failure to protect our most important water resources.”

During the administrative hearing, it was revealed that the 9,500 head of cattle planned for Phase I will produce nearly 158 million pounds of manure and 11 million gallons of urine per year. In addition, 700,000 pounds of nitrogen from fertilizer will be used to grow grass and crops to feed the cattle.

The petitioners presented evidence that the aquifer is critically over-tapped in the Silver Springs springshed, and that the fertilizer and manure will increase nutrient pollution in the Silver and Ocklawaha Rivers. The flow of Silver Springs has already declined on average by more than 30 percent, and nitrate concentrations have increased 20-fold over healthy background levels. In 2012, the state of Florida introduced a cleanup plan calling for a 79% reduction in nutrient pollution from existing users to protect Silver Springs and the upper Silver River.

The legal challenge was in response to the proposal by St. Johns River Water Management District staff to grant the requested permit to Sleepy Creek Lands despite overwhelming evidence that groundwater in the area is already over-allocated and that existing permitted withdrawals are contributing to the significant flow reductions at Silver Springs.

While disappointed, the petitioners say the battle is not over. The parties first have an opportunity to file written exceptions to the Recommended Order, explaining where they think the Judge erred in his determinations. The Judge’s recommendation and these exceptions will then be considered by the St Johns River Water Management District Governing Board when they vote on the permit at a to-be-determined upcoming meeting.

One of the weakest parts of the Judge’s conclusions is his finding that the proposed withdrawal is “consistent with the public interest,” says to St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman. “Allowing our over-pumped aquifer and polluted waterways to be further degraded for the economic benefit of a private landowner is completely contrary to the public interest. The Judge’s recommendation elevates the economic interests of a few about the damage that will likely occur to Silver Springs, Silver River and the Ocklawaha River, and ignores the testimony of nearly 50 citizens who spoke as part of the administrative hearing process.”

Sierra Club’s Linda Bremer echoed Rinaman’s sentiments. “The water management district is tasked with protecting the springs, rivers, and groundwater that belongs to the citizens of this state. We should not have to fight so hard to protect our water resources and hold our regulatory agencies accountable.”

A copy of the Recommended Order by Administrative Law Judge Gary Early is available upon request.

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April 30, 2015

SleepCreekLands(update from the St. John’s River Water Management District website)

Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch) in Marion County submitted two consumptive use permit (CUP) modification requests to the St. Johns River Water Management District.

One request is an application to consolidate two existing sod farm permits on Sleepy Creek’s East Tract (see map) that have current combined allocations of 1.46 mgd into a single permit. The request further seeks to allow 0.96 mgd of the existing East Tract allocation to be withdrawn from the North Tract.

District staff completed the review of this request on May 14, 2014, and recommended that the District’s Governing Board approve that application. The staff’s recommendation to approve, was based, in part, on:

The modification does not increase currently permitted water use allocations. The original allocations were approved in 2001 (0.55 mgd) and 2006 (0.91 mgd) and the applicant is not requesting additional water.
At least 0.96 mgd of the allocated groundwater withdrawals would be located approximately 2.7 miles further away from Silver Springs (a total distance of 12.2 miles from the springs).

The District’s analysis projects that the relocation of the allocated groundwater withdrawals would result in some benefit to the modeled spring flows.

The applicant obtained an environmental resource permit (ERP) on May 12, 2014, to address potential water quality issues. The ERP requires additional water quality treatment through the establishment of vegetated upland buffers, retention berms, redistribution swales, and the implementation of other conservation practices.

The District received two petitions on June 2, 2014, challenging the proposed CUP issuance. The District referred the petitions to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) for assignment of an independent administrative law judge (ALJ). An administrative hearing was held Aug. 25–29, 2014, in Palatka. At that hearing, District staff presented the facts and the law that led to their recommendation for the permit’s approval.

On April 29, 2015, the ALJ issued a recommended order that the District issue the CUP. The District will review the recommended order as well as any exceptions (objections) to the recommended order that may be filed by the parties. The District’s Governing Board will enter a final order to approve or deny the CUP at an upcoming public meeting. A date has not been set for that meeting. When entering a final order, the District has limited authority to modify the recommended order.

The other permit request seeks a new allocation of 1.12 million gallons of water per day (mgd) for use on Sleepy Creek’s North Tract (see map).

District staff completed its review of the request in July 2014 and, based on cumulative impacts to Silver Springs and the Silver River, recommended that the Governing Board deny the application at the Board’s August 2014 public meeting.

The applicant subsequently waived permitting timeframes and third parties filed petitions raising other grounds for denial in addition to cumulative impacts to Silver Springs and the Silver River. Therefore, the application is not currently scheduled to be considered by the Governing Board.

Additional details about the staff’s recommendation are available in the Technical Staff Report.

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Scroll down to see archive pictures and video and to hear audio on this continuing story below):

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(Photos courtesy of Putnam County Environmental Council)

On Saturday, September 13th, 2014 opponents of the Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly Adena Springs Ranch) held their 3rd annual Adena Protest Event. The event was a benefit to raise funds for the Water Protection Fund through Southern Legal Counsel.  Net proceeds are going toward the legal challenge to the Sleepy Creek Lands grassfed beef project in Ft. McCoy, Florida.

The event got underway at 1:00 with a flotilla of paddlers in the Silver River carrying protest signs opposing the proposed water permit requests from the Sleepy Creek Lands. The event also included an afternoon of live music, games and food.

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Entertainers for the Saturday event included Grant Peeples, the Ashley Gang, Bob Patterson & Charley Simmons, Whitey Markle, Bill & Eli Perras, the Wild Shiners, and Tom Ellis.  For more information go to www.water-first.org, call 352-546-3560, or email ahlers.karen@gmail.com. The event was sponsored by Karen Ahlers and Jeri Baldwin, Putnam County Environmental Council, Blue Water Bay and Southern Legal Counsel.

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One of many protest signs over Sleepy Creek’s water permit request.

Update September 3, 2014:  (from the SJRWMD website)

Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch) in Marion County recently submitted two consumptive use permit (CUP) modification requests to the St. Johns River Water Management District.

 

 

 

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  • One request seeks a new allocation of 1.12 million gallons of water per day (mgd) for use on Sleepy Creek’s North Tract (see map).District staff completed its review of the request in July 2014 and, based on cumulative impacts to Silver Springs and the Silver River, recommended that the Governing Board deny the application at the Board’s August 2014 public meeting.The applicant subsequently waived permitting timeframes and third parties filed petitions raising other grounds for denial in addition to cumulative impacts to Silver Springs and the Silver River. Therefore, the application is not currently scheduled to be considered by the Governing Board.  Additional details about the staff’s recommendation are available in theTechnical Staff Report. 
  • The other request is a separate permit application to consolidate two existing sod farm permits on Sleepy Creek’s East Tract (see map) that have current combined allocations of 1.46 mgd into a single permit. The request further seeks to allow 0.96 mgd of the existing East Tract allocation to be withdrawn from the North Tract.District staff completed the review of this request on May 14, 2014, and recommended that the District’s Governing Board approve that application. The staff’s recommendation to approve, was based, in part, on:
    • The modification does not increase currently permitted water use allocations. The original allocations were approved in 2001 (0.55 mgd) and 2006 (0.91 mgd) and the applicant is not requesting additional water.
    • At least 0.96 mgd of the allocated groundwater withdrawals would be located approximately 2.7 miles further away from Silver Springs (a total distance of 12.2 miles from the springs).
    • The District’s analysis projects that the relocation of the allocated groundwater withdrawals would result in some benefit to the modeled spring flows.
    • The applicant obtained an environmental resource permit (ERP) on May 12, 2014, to address potential water quality issues. The ERP requires additional water quality treatment through the establishment of vegetated upland buffers, retention berms, redistribution swales, and the implementation of other conservation practices.

    The District received two petitions on June 2, 2014, challenging the proposed CUP issuance. The District referred the petitions to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) for assignment of an independent administrative law judge (ALJ). An administrative hearing was held Aug. 25–29, 2014, in Palatka. At that hearing, District staff presented the facts and the law that led to their recommendation for the permit’s approval. The ALJ will issue a recommended order at a later date.

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One of many different signs protesting water permit request for Adena Ranch in Marion County.
One of many different signs protesting the water permit request for Adena Sprngs Ranch.

Update July 16, 2014:  The staff of the St. John’s River Water Management District is recommending the Board of the water management district deny approval to Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach’s request to pump 1.12 million gallons of water per day for his Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch) in Marion County.  The District Governing Board will take up the issue at a public meeting on August 12th and at an administrative hearing scheduled for August 25th, 2014 in Palatka.

In its report, the staff indicated Stronach’s request for 1.12 mgd could “contribute to cumulative harm to the ecology of Silver Springs and the Silver River.”  According to the St. John’s River Water Management District website, the staff utilized scientific studies conducted in the development of minimum flows and levels for Silver Springs and the Silver River.  Additional details about the staff’s recommendation are available in the Technical Staff Report.

In a press release Karen Ahlers, Executive Director of Florida Defenders of the Environment and activist with the Water Action Team, said she was pleased about the staff’s recommendation,

“Kudos to SJRWMD for standing by the science and recommending denial of this permit modification. The additional water requested by Sleepy Creek Lands would have made a bad permit that much worse for Outstanding Florida Waters that are already impaired and degraded.”

Although pleased with the staff’s recommendation for denial of the permit Ahlers says she is still concerned about other permit requests coming for separate land tracts owned by Stronach.

Stronach, who is the largest landowner in Marion County, is asking permission from the Water Management District to consolidate two existing sod farm permits on Sleepy Creek’s East Tract that have current combined allocations of 1.46 mgd into a single permit. In addition, Stronach wants to allow 0.96 mgd of the existing East Tract allocation to be withdrawn from the North Tract.  The district staff reviewed this request on May 14, 2014 and recommends the District’s Governing Board approve that application.

Two environmental groups are contesting this  water swap request by Adena Springs Ranch.  St. Johns Riverkeeper and Sierra Club Northeast are filing a complaint with the St. John’s River Water Management District against Adena’s request to  use its sod farm water permit at its proposed cattle operation.  The two environmental groups will plead their case before an administrative law judge later this summer.

The Adena plan is to use the vast majority of the water to irrigate grasses needed to feed the cattle on the ranch, but the environmental groups say they remain concerned about potential negative ramifications of cattle manure on the Silver Springs Watershed.

“Impacts to the Ocklawaha River from groundwater contamination and surface water runoff have been all but ignored,” said Ahlers.  “The ranch was historically used to grow pine trees and provided significant habitat for wildlife. It has now been denuded to make way for irrigated pasture to support 9,500 head of cattle. The pollution runoff from this site will be horrific.”

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Owner of Sleepy Creek Lands, Frank Stronach (4th from left) with a variety of dignitaries at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the IFAS research facility named in his honor

UPDATE April 11th, 2014:  The St. John’s River Water Management District has issued the latest development on the hotly debated Adena Springs Ranch water permit request.  The SJRWMD website published where the application process stands:

“… The applicant has elected to split its project into three phases: Phase I (the North Tract); Phase II (the Advanced Practices Pilot Project); and Phase III (the South Tract). With its RAI (request for additional information) response, the applicant has modified its pending application to include only the North Tract and has reduced its withdrawal request to 2.389 mgd average daily use. In its RAI response, the applicant also states that it will be filing a second permit application for an Advanced Practices Pilot Project (APPP). The purpose of the APPP is to more accurately determine 1) the level of nutrient treatment provided by proposed retention ponds and 2) the amount of reuse water that can be provided by the retention ponds for irrigation. The applicant further states that a permit application for the southern portion of the project, Phase III, will be pursued in the future and will incorporate the findings from the APPP.”

In the early days of the process Adena Springs Ranch owner Frank Stronach had discussed wanting 27 million gallons of water per day.

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UPDATE March 12th, 2014:  The Adena Springs Ranch has received a one month extension on its request to pump more than 5.3 million gallons of water per day for its cattle ranching operation in North Central Florida.  The permit request has been hotly debated because the cattle operation is in the Silver Springs watershed.  Posted on the St. John’s River Water Management District website on March 12th, 2014:  “At the applicant’s request, the District granted a third time extension until April 10, 2014, to respond to the request for additional information or to request an extension of the response time frame.” (additional video and pics of Frank Stronach added near the bottom of this post)

Adena Springs Ranch had already received extensions in September and December of 2013. The SJRWMD water managers want Adena to conduct tests to explore potential environmental effects from withdrawing water.  The SJRWMD says when the application is complete, District staff will determine if the requested allocation of water meets District permitting criteria.

Frank Stronach stands next to Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos at an IFAS building dedication ceremony.
Frank Stronach stands next to Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos at an IFAS building dedication ceremony.

Many of those who oppose the water permit request from Adena have expressed concern that a cattle ranch will exacerbate the already degraded condition of water in Silver Springs and the Silver River.  Since the original permit request process began, the State has officially taken over as the owner of the former Silver Springs Tourist attraction and has begun work on a series of infrastructure improvements to the park. 

Senator Bob Graham is opposed to Adena Springs Ranch getting a water permit.  Graham, who helped initiate the Florida Conservation Coalition, says Florida has two problems.

Former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham
Former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham

“We have a quantity problem, which is a product of the long-running drought we had through much of the last decade, but also the permanent issue of overconsumption,” says Graham. “Many of the rivers and streams in Florida have more water committed to various purposes from cooling utility plants to putting water in our bathroom faucet than there is water in the system.”

Graham says the second problem is quality, “There’s been a very big spike particularly in phosphorus and nitrogen in our water supply and that is changing the character of our rivers and streams.  So we’ve got to fight both of those battles concurrently.”

When asked directly about his opinion over the Adena Springs Ranch permit request, Graham says he thinks it should be denied, “because I think that is a very large consumptive use permit in an area that has already shown the serious signs of the consequences of overuse and drawing the amount of water in the system below that which is necessary to sustain itself,” says Graham.

He says since the State of Florida has taken over Silver Springs, “there’s the potential to take better care of the springs because now it’s going to be the state’s responsibility and provide more appropriate and adequate access to the springs for all the kinds of happy experiences that I had at Silver Springs growing up in Florida and most young Floridians of my age had available to them.”

Original story:  Today (09/16/2013) is the deadline for the staff of the Adena Springs Ranch in Marion County  to respond to a third request for needed information from the St. John’s River Water Management District in the company’s ongoing request for a consumptive use permit to pump more than 5.3 million gallons of water per day for its cattle ranching operation.  The original request was for more than 13 million gallons of water per day.  According to the SJRWMD website, prior to the official application for a consumptive use permit, Adena Springs Ranch owner Frank Stronach had discussed wanting 27 million gallons of water per day.

Adena Springs Ranch, owned by billionaire Frank Stronach, comprises nearly 25,000 acres of land in northeastern Marion County.  Stronach also owns 35,000 acres in Levy County.  Stronach’s plan is to grass-feed his cattle in a stress-free environment with plans to harvest the animals in a way that he says, “protects his neighbors and the environment.”

Protesters turn out at Frank Stronach Bldg. Dedication over his Adena Springs Ranch water permit application
Protesters turn out at the IFAS Frank Stronach bldg. dedication over his Adena Springs Ranch water permit application

But many thousands of residents have voiced concern about the potential negative impact of the nutrients from the manure of so many cows on the Silver Springs watershed. Many have also staged protests over the amount of water Stronach wants pumped for his operation, especially in light of Florida’s drought last year.

Donna Green-Townsend talked with both Republican State Representative Dennis Baxley from Ocala and the Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, Bob Knight about both sides of the controversial cattle operation.

 

Republican State Representative from Ocala Dennis Baxley
Republican State Representative from Ocala Dennis Baxley

Representative Baxley says he believes Frank Stronach is a good environmental steward.  He also says a cattle ranch would be a better use of the property than another large retirement community:

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Bob Knight
Bob Knight, President of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute

Springs Institute Director Knight says he doesn’t feel Adena Springs Ranch needs the water when it could be utilizing other conservation measures by storing rainfall and other techniques.  He says the aquifer has not recovered from over pumping that has already occurred from a wide variety of industries, including agricultural use.  He’s worried the St. John’s River Water Management District will feel pressured to give a consumptive use permit to the Adena Springs Ranch because Stronach has spent a lot of money in the community :

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Frank Stronach

At the May 2012 IFAS building dedication ceremony to name the Plant Science Research Center after him, Stronach gave a short interview to Donna Green-Townsend.  He says for the past two decades he has been a good neighbor:

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Stronach says the cattlemen in Florida wanted him to build a processing plant in North Central Florida to keep from sending their cows off to other states for slaughter

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and he added he is aware there have been some dry years in Florida, but he feels he will rely on experts who will use the best science to determine the right process for his business

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Here is a video recording of Frank Stronach’s speech at the IFAS building dedication ceremony in May of 2012. Stronach expresses sadness about the number of protestors who were outside the building and across the street who oppose his water permit application for Adena Springs Ranch.

The website for Adena Springs Ranch indicates the business does care about its neighbors and the environment and disputes the claim that a consumptive use permit will change the water flow of Silver Springs. The company website says technical experts have been hired to study and prevent any potential environmental concerns regarding nearby wells of property owners or nutrient issues from the cow manure. The website also includes a short video explaining the Adena Springs Ranch operation:

 

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Land of Flowers Music Video (highlighting area lake levels past and present)

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Drought and overpumping of the Floridan aquifer are blamed for low lake levels in the Keystone Heights area.

Singer songwriter Elisabeth Williamson was so saddened by the low level of Gatorbone Lake in the Keystone Heights area in recent years that she wrote a song about it called, “Land of Flowers.”  Lake levels in many North Central Florida lakes have been low for a long period of time (some say since 2005, the year after the busy 2004 hurricane season).  Many blame not only the lack of rainfall, but also overpumping by businesses, agriculture and utilities. Scenes from Gatorbone Lake, White Sands Lake, Lake Geneva, Newnan’s Lake, Cross Creek and  Orange and Lochloosa Lakes are included in this video produced by Donna Green-Townsend.

 

 

Some photos in this video were contributed by Keystone Heights Mayor Mary Lou Hildreth.  Other video and pictures were taken by Donna Green-Townsend and Lee Townsend.

See more about the economic effects of low lake levels on the Keystone Heights area at: http://donnagreentownsend.com/residents-of-lake-communities-frustrated-over-low-water-levels-pt-1-09192013/#.Uko9_drD-Uk

and the effects of low lake levels on the Cross Creek area at:  http://donnagreentownsend.com/cross-creek-area-businesses-hurting-from-low-water-levels-09192013/#.Uko-MNrD-Uk

 

 

Keystone Heights lake community frustrated over low water levels Pt. 1 (video added)

By Donna Green-Townsend and Amanda Jackson (UPDATE: a 15 min. video follows the text)

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Historic photo of Mary Lou Hildreth’s home circa late 1920’s (photo courtesy of Mary Lou Hildreth)
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Current photo of Mary Lou Hildreth’s home on Lake Geneva shows how the water has receded in recent years

 

 

The Keystone Heights community has been damaged economically by decreasing lake levels.  As the town teams up with the St. John’s River Water Management District, residents are hoping they are moving toward some solutions.

Keystone Heights Mayor Mary Lou Hildreth said her view – looking out onto the receding shoreline of Lake Geneva – makes her sad. She knows what it was years ago and what it could be if the water levels could recover. And after seeing her city suffer for many years and with an estimated $80 million in losses, she said, something needs to be done.

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Typical picture of a dock far away from the shoreline on many Keystone area lakes (photo courtesy of Mary Lou Hildreth)

Keystone Heights, known as the Lake Region of North Florida, has seen drastic changes to the landscape as lakes that once flourished have nearly dried up in the last two years. A decade of little rainfall and what residents fear is over-pumping of the Floridan aquifer have negatively impacted the lakes and the homes surrounding them. Hildreth said people aren’t eating in area restaurants, renting boats, fishing or skiing – activities that once helped businesses stay afloat.

In an effort to save the lakes and communities that depend on them, residents and politicians have been meeting and discussing possible solutions.

Many residents want to know what the exact cause of the receding lake levels could be, especially in the Keystone Heights area, and when solutions will be implemented.

SJRWMD spokeswoman Teresa Monson explained how hard pinpointing just one cause can be.

“The Keystone Heights area lakes have naturally fluctuated up and down over many decades,” Monson said, “and currently there are lower water levels in the lake that are largely — not entirely — but largely caused by reduced rainfall over many years. Again, even decades.”

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Photo of a truck driving across the exposed land of a lake in the Keystone Heights area

Water is also allowed to naturally seep down into the aquifer system because the local terrain is made of limestone and lake bottoms are sandy. Some of the lakes even have active sinkholes draining water into the aquifer.

The lakes haven’t always been this way. Elisabeth Williamson, a Keystone Heights resident, remembers the lake she knew from her childhood. She grew up in the area, living by Gatorbone Lake for most of her life.

“I really feel for folks that have retired to this area as they’ve watched their property values go down, down, down and also businesses that were very lake-oriented,” Williamson said.

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Elisabeth Williamson points to a dilapidated dock that is sitting far above the water of Gatorbone Lake

She recalled a little pond in front of the house where she grew up. Once a great fishing hole, it has been dry now for a decade or more. She also pointed out the number of docks  – now dry and falling apart – standing far from the shoreline.

Watching the lake levels fall over the years, she said, has been heartbreaking.

“I’m not sure it’s ever going to be the same again,” she said.

Williamson has been so distraught by low lake levels, she wrote a song about it called “The Land of Flowers.”  Here is a music video featuring her song:

According to statistics from the SJRWMD, the yearly average rainfall in inches is between 50 and 55 in Florida, but Keystone Heights levels have been down for some time. Monson said 10 years ago, rainfall was measured at 38 inches per year and improved five years later to 50 inches.

Despite these yearly fluctuations, 2013 was a good year for rain with the area receiving 19 inches between May and June alone which brought Lake Brooklyn’s levels up nearly four feet. Some residents, though, feel the reprieve is only temporary.

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View of Keystone Beach which looks more like a variety of ponds connected by land areas

“They used to have races out here on the Fourth of July, skiing, fishing, all types of recreational outdoor activities,” Hildreth said. “And now because the lakes have gone down, we don’t have that same draw.  And a lot of our businesses are suffering.  Our property values are suffering.  The economy of my city is suffering because of it.”

She said utilities, lack of rainfall, industry and agriculture all come together to create a perfect storm for low water levels in the aquifer. With no clear end in sight, the community is fighting back.

Save Our Lakes is one organization trying to make a difference. The group holds monthly meetings in Keystone Heights to inform the community about what is being done to restore the lakes and to develop long-term solutions to help the community recover.

1378831204589Save Our Lakes President Vivian Katz said a lack of knowledge is the key problem with the lakes, not a person or entity.

She said Keystone Heights is “a lake community that’s losing its lakes.”

For now, the community and the water management district are trying to work together and are evaluating an aquifer water replenishment plan. This plan would focus on bringing more water into the Floridan aquifer in the hopes it will benefit the lakes and wetlands and provide a sustainable water source for the region.

Hildreth said a variety of boards, especially for Lake Brooklyn and Lake Geneva, have been meeting for two years to discuss solutions, but the process is “agonizingly slow,” though she has noticed some movement on the water management district’s part.

“Our current concern, though, is that they’re not doing enough fast enough and that science should be driving the politics, but politics is really driving the science right now,” she said. (15 minute video with full interview segments from Elisabeth Williamson and Mary Lou Hildreth regarding Keystone Heights area lakes.

To hear part two of this series on water levels in North Central Florida lakes click link:  http://donnagreentownsend.com/cross-creek-area-businesses-hurting-from-low-water-levels-09192013/#.UtFOW9i4uUk