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What's the Latest on Sleepy Creek Lands' Water Permit?

Silver Springs State Park
Silver Springs State Park.

This story is a part of Untold Florida, a WUFT News series built from your questions. Audrey Dickinson, an audience member, asked us, “What dangers are posed to the Silver River by the Sleepy Creek permit and the St. Johns River Water Management District's decisions about it?”

The legal feud over a Marion County cattle ranch's request for more water to expand its beef processing facility continues.

The cattle ranch Sleepy Creek Lands seeks a permit to take an additional 1.22 million gallons of groundwater per day from Silver Springs and Silver River. The water increase will take place in years 2017 through 2023. Sleepy Creek Land will use the additional water to produce more grass and hay to feed cattle. This will help convert more than 7,000 acres of their north tract into part of the cattle grazing processing operation which covers about 30,000 acres in northern Marion County.

Petitioners are seeking to invalidate the emergency minimum flow rule for Silver Springs that the St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board approved in April.

The St. Johns Riverkeeper is one of the petitioners. Executive Director of St. Johns Riverkeeper Jimmy Orth says over-pumping from Silver Springs and Silver River is not the only danger of granting the permit.

"They're also already impaired with too many nutrients. The nitrate levels in Silver Springs and Silver River exceed state standards," Orth said.

The St. Johns River Water Management District supports the application for more water. Bureau Chief for Regulatory Services Richard Burklew said Sleepy Creek Land's request meets district criteria.

"In this case, they're using a state of the art beef processing facility," Burklew said. "They demonstrated their use is very nominal for that. They also demonstrated the majority of their use is for pasture irrigation, since this is going to be a wholly grass-fed operation."

The district staff recommended last year that from years 2024 through 2034 the ranch's water use drop back to its current water allocation of 1.46 million galons per day. Executive Director of Florida Defenders of the Environment Jim Gross said current recovery strategies in Florida are doing no good, and this one will be no different.

"Issuing more permits is a sure-fire guarantee to cause significant harm to water bodies, so saying you're going to do a recovery strategy without saying how you're going to do it is just nuts," he said.

Both sides will send post-hearing submissions by the Aug. 16 deadline. After reviewing both submissions, a judge will issue a final order. There is no deadline for that decision.

This story emerged from an audience question.  Submit your curiosities to Find Out Florida, and we’ll find the answer. Preference is given to those who include at least their first name.

More from this story:


In The Point podcast this week, Luke Sullivan reports on the letters sent from war zones to loved ones back home, and Arnae Holcomb answers listener Audrey Dickinson's question for Untold Florida about the status of the Sleepy Creek Ranch permitting process. Subscribe in iTunes or Google Play.

Arnae is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.