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St. Johns River Water Management District Faces Opposition From Environmental Agencies

Silver Springs State Park
Silver Springs State Park.

Two environmental agencies have filed a notice of appeal to the 5th District Court of Appealin Daytona Beach challenging a consumptive use permit (CUP) issued by the St. Johns River Water Management District.

The permit granted Sleepy Creek Lands, formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch, the daily withdrawal of 1.46 million gallons of groundwater, which the Florida Defenders of the Environment and the St. Johns Riverkeeper are trying to get overturned.

Marcy LaHart, attorney for theFlorida Defenders of the Environment and the St. Johns Riverkeeper, said the notice of appeal was filed because the permit was not properly analyzed.

“The administrative law judge refused to consider evidence that the natural system is already over-tapped, that there is not enough water, and that granting this permit is going to cause further harm to Silver Springs,” LaHart said. “It was a political decision, not a science-based decision.”

But, Hank Largin, the public communications coordinator of the St. Johns River Water Management District, said this was not a new allocation of water. Instead, it is a modification for an existing permit and does not represent an increase in water usage.

Largin said the withdrawal point was moved 2.7 miles farther away from the springs from the previous withdrawal point.

John Wharton, the attorney representing Sleepy Creek Lands declined to comment.

Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, said the Water Management District used a narrow review of the impact.

“They looked at this as a modification of an existing permit,” Rinaman said. “And we don’t believe that they did a thorough analysis of this impact to the ecosystem.”

Furthermore, Rinaman said there might be additional runoff to the tributaries of the Ocklawaha River, the largest tributary of the St. Johns, and that this will actively impact multiple bodies of water, not just Silver Springs.

Thomas Hawkins, the executive director of Florida Defenders of the Environment Inc., said this groundwater withdrawal would reduce Silver Springs’ outflow and lead to increased nitrogen levels in the water.

The water will be used to irrigate grass and to raise approximately 6,000 grass-fed cattle.

“Most of the cattle operations in Florida raise the cattle to a certain age and ship them out west for fattening and slaughtering,” Hawkins said. “And this operation proposes to keep the cattle on the property their entire lifetime until slaughter.”

Hawkins said that pumping that water and having a density of cows like it is being planned will result in increased pollution to the aquifer, due to the concentration of waste and fertilizer that will be used on the property.

Robert Knight, Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute said he spent the last three years discussing and analyzing this permit with the St. Johns River Management District. What he found was that this permit represented about a five-fold increase in existing groundwater use from what had been used before.

“Silver Springs flow is down over 30 percent so this is a further nail in the coffin that unfortunately is coming for Silver Springs,” Knight said. “This use of our groundwater for this purpose is not sustainable, it’s not wise, it’s not the public’s best interest."

There will be a mediation conference on October 2.

Victoria is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news