Did they hear us yet? Update on the Adena Springs Ranch Consumptive Use Permit Request

by karen ahlers

Adena Springs Ranch tried to head us off at the pass late last month. Adena representatives provided a “public meeting” at Church at the Springs in Ocala to announce they will reduce their water permit request from 13.26 million gallons per day (MGD) to 5.3 MGD. Their presentation sounded like they are starting to hear us, but in no way diminishes our resolve to pursue independent review of their proposed consumptive use permit.

The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) has received thousands of letters and petitions expressing concern or objection.

“We share these concerns and welcome a thorough evaluation of Adena’s water needs and a valid assessment of the likely impacts of their withdrawals,” said attorney John R. Thomas who represents private citizens Jeri Baldwin and myself, who are spearheading an independent review of the permit. “No permit should be issued without a complete assessment and plan to protect and restore Silver Springs, the Silver River and the Ocklawaha River Outstanding Florida Waters.”

Ranch manager Mark Roberts explained less water would be used for the grass-fed beef because the cattle would begin their lives elsewhere and would only be finished at the Ft. McCoy property for six months before being slaughtered onsite. Roberts was non-committal about where the herd would be raised for the first 18 months of their lives or what water needs would be at other locations.

The applicant’s team of advocates, presented by PR Director Honey Rand, argued to the crowd that 5.3 MGD withdrawals would cause only a small reduction in aquifer levels. They also suggested the ranch would cause only a small increase in nutrient concentrations in the groundwater feeding Silver Springs because Adena would employ best management practices in their handling of cattle wastes and fertilizer.

“There is no additional groundwater to be taken — it has already been over-committed to existing permit holders by Florida’s water management districts,” said Dr. Bob Knight, director of the Florida Spring Institute in Gainesville.

Long-term average flow in Silver Springs is already down more than 30 percent, or more than 160 MGD, and nobody agrees why. Everyone agrees rainfall patterns play a role, but beyond that Adena speculates the water-bearing limestone collapsed on itself, the District thinks submerged vegetation is clogging flow out of the springs downriver, and objectors contend the data show overuse of groundwater is responsible.

The District has probably been telling Adena they could not grant a permit for anything like 13 MGD from the Silver Springs springshed. Even reduced to 5.3 MGD, it’s just way too much additional water lost to the ecosystem. Besides, reducing the harm to Silver Springs by increasing harm in another watershed is simply unacceptable.

The Adena PR Team was unable to answer many questions about their nutrient management plan. Meeting attendees were encouraged by Adena permitting attorney Ed de la Parte to trust the permitting process at SJRWMD to protect water resources. Numerous comments from the audience denounced the reliability of the District to uphold their mission.

Silver Springs, the Silver River and the nearby Ocklawaha River Aquatic Preserve are all legally designated “Outstanding Florida Waters” (OFWs), which under Florida Law and the Federal Clean Water Act must be afford the highest level of protection.

“Sadly, Florida has not delivered on the protection promise, and these OFWs are in severe decline from overpumping of groundwater resources and inadequate management and regulation of fertilizers and animal wastes,” Thomas lamented.

Each of these OFWs has been determined to be impaired by excessive nitrate concentrations, and the State recently released a draft study for Silver Springs calling for all sources of nitrate to be reduced 79 percent. This is no time to reduce flows and increase nitrate loading in these Outstanding Florida Waters.

Funding is needed for a possible legal battle down the road. Those who want to help can send donations to the Southern Legal Counsel (checks made out to same) online at www.southernlegal.org or by mail to 1229 NW 12th Ave., Gainesville, Fla., 32601.

For more information contact Karen Ahlers at ahlers.karen@gmail.com.

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