Wednesday, February 8, 2012

13 Million Gallons of Water a Day! Editorial

The very first thing that struck us about Frank Stronach’s consumptive use permit to pump up to 13.27 million gallons a day from the aquifer to irrigate pasturelands at his new Adena Springs Ranch cattle spread south of Fort McCoy is the sheer amount of water being sought.

As has been well documented, the requested amount is more than the 12.85 million gallons consumed by city of Ocala water system customers each day.

We are further amazed by the comments of Stronach’s engineers.

First, in a hydrogeologic report submitted to the St. Johns River Water Management District as part of the permit request, they state: “The proposed withdrawals are not predicted to create impacts that will negatively affect the surface water features, aquifer water elevations, area well withdrawals, area spring flow ... and area land uses.”

Then, as if area residents’ protests to such a big water taking is much ado about nothing, another of Stronach’s engineers tells us that, yes, Adena Springs Ranch is seeking permission to pump 13 million gallons of water a day, but it is highly unlikely the full permitted amount would ever actually be pumped; that rain would be the principal source of irrigation for the 10,000-acre cattle operation.

It is impossible to imagine that taking millions upon millions of gallons of water from the aquifer each day will not adversely affect the water table, the springs or area wells.

For years we have been told that endless granting of water pumping permits had no negative impact on the aquifer, that any drop in the water table was due to drought.

Yet, an analysis by the Florida Springs Institute shows that while Silver Springs’ flow has declined by 50 percent since 1965, area rainfall totals have only dropped by 15 percent. It is not all drought.

As for the argument that Stronach will never actually use all 13 million gallons he is seeking approval to tap, why ask for more than you need? More important, why would the St. Johns district even consider giving rights to precious water supply that the permit seeker does not actually need? Everyone agrees, water is an increasingly limited and dwindling resource, and granting more water than is needed simply would be reckless management of the state’s natural resources.

We agree with Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the Save the Manatee Club, that before approving any major withdrawals of water so close to Silver Springs, the St. Johns board should wait for that agency’s ongoing study of the Silver River’s minimum flows and levels before acting. The MFL study will tell water managers how low the springs and river can go before irreparable environmental damage occurs. And certainly, pumping millions of gallons a day from the aquifer at a time when the springs and river are at historic lows is reason enough to give pause.

We know that Stronach’s land-buying spree and planned cattle operation are an economic boon for Marion County at a time when it is sorely needed. And we welcome his investment in our community. At the same time, we know that giving away water rights without sound justification and need, or further endangering the health of our aquifer and Silver Springs, cannot be allowed.

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