The Amy H Remley Foundation  

Bold leadership needed to protect Citrus County's springs and waterways.

August 12, 2007

At the recent hearings on protecting Citrus County Springs, a parade of lawyers, and building lobbyists attacked the rules for limiting their right to squeeze every possible piece of land adjacent to springs and water bodies. They also vigorously oppose rule improvements that are necessary to protect groundwater and surface waters. This is one front of a war on our groundwater supplies and springs.

Water use for humans, fish, and wildlife

The situation: The lack of sufficient rain fall and water withdrawals have combined to make the current drought worse and more prolonged to the detriment of natural spring systems. The common pool of water available for agriculture, industrial, and domestic needs are taxing the current availability of water supply. These factors also reduce the amount of water available to sustain natural spring systems that provide economic benefits to our coastal region and wildlife.

In Citrus County, water has been plentiful in the past, but drought, lack of reuse, overpumpage, and overuse are stressing natural aquifer systems with increasing frequency in the coastal region. The benefits of springs and water supply are then in conflict with each other and with the protection of the land surrounding water bodies and adjacent to springs and spring runs. The water quality of springs provides a unique window on the groundwater quality and provide a baseline for bay and river quality.

Increasing consumptive uses in the county remove more water yearly from natural areas and degrade their ecological functions to maintain habits for humans and nature. The cumulative effect is that lakes, sinks, streams, rivers, floodplains and springs dry more frequently and are replenished less frequently.

Nutrient runoff into our lakes, rivers, streams and leaching into our groundwater has resulted in high maintenance costs to waterfront owners who continuously try to control choking growths of scum and algae in Kings Bay and other areas in the county. Groundwater nutrients from springs present a potentially serious ecological issue for the river's biological structure and ecological health as well as the potential effects on submersed aquatic vegetation downstream of springs and spring runs.

The resolution: The first and arguably most important step towards cleaning up our waterbodies, springs and groundwater is to make sure that we have compiled an accurate and complete list of all waterbodies, seeps, sinkholes, river spring runs, and springs in Citrus County. The next step is to then establish and implement water withdrawal budgets and/or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of pollutants for each basin, establish minimum flows, in a timely manner for all waterbodies in the county. Further investigations on how spring nutrients change the vegetative structure of the rivers that provide both refuge and forage habitats for our fish and wildlife are warranted.

Protecting the Land Surrounding Our Springs

The situation: People like to live near water. That is why our coasts, rivers, lakes and even springs attract development. In many cases proximity leads to degradation of the very waterfront that is so attractive. Some of the land around the springs and streams has been purchased through the Florida parks system and public greenway programs. However, the buying power for this important effort has been shrinking as land costs go up and water management districts shift focus to water supply and restoration projects.

The porous karst aquifer in both of the county's basins is distinguishable from karst systems in more northern part of the state. Because our karst is so penetrable, water seeps through a micropore sand system, permeable rocks and various-sized openings to feed the aquifer, and rapidly move to the spring head. This realization is changing the way that springs protection set backs are conceptualized and has critical implications for land use in areas previously thought not to be closely connected to the springs - especially those lands up stream of the springs and springshed recharge areas.

In Citrus County, springs are important both ecologically and economically, in addition to being the source for habitat for countless species from the manatees to invertebrates. Our springs support a host of recreation-oriented businesses such as canoe and kayak rentals, dive shops, boat tours, and all auxiliary concession that attend such activity, not to mention esential contributon to the commercial an recreational fishing industries.

Threats to the integrity of our natural groundwater's and springs generally arise from poor land use controls and generalized set back decisions close to the spring head. Additional threats to springs and groundwater include careless use of fertilizer and pesticides, landscaping, and arsenic from golf courses next to water bodies. Other threats come from land application of sludge and development in high aquifer recharge areas, leaking septic tanks, silt buildup and sedimentation that blocks spring flow; and overpumping of the aquifer for consumptive use of water.

The resolution: Time travel to the spring head from a spill need to be calculated based on the percolation and groundwater movement to the spring and the time for adequate response time for HAZMAT spills. Fifty-foot set backs are more than sufficient for groundwater velocity at 0.65 feet per day. It would take the spill 77 days to reach the spring head. However, with a groundwater movement of 200 feet per hour, it would take only 15 minutes to reach the spring head. The worst possible case is with a groundwater movement of 375 feet per hour, within eight minutes, pollutants could reach the spring head. Set backs of 100, 500, and 1000 feet need to be established based on two factors, percolation to the aquifer and ground water movement.

Preserving undeveloped landscapes such as sand hills on the Brookville Ridge and Withlacoochee Forest, is important.

Sinkholes throughout the county and caves in the southern end of the county; large wetland basins like the Green Swamp, lands adjacent to the Tsala Apopka Chain of lakes and Withlacoochee River ensure safe, reliable water supplies by protecting the natural reservoirs that store and recharge our county's surface and ground water and feed our springs with clean and safe water.

Growth management through use of pod development in sensitive recharge areas is one of the many actions that the county can take today to preserve our natural resources for the future.

Cumulative Impacts

The situation: Changes that seem small, perhaps appearing of negligible importance, can add up to crucial cumulative impacts on our water supply and springs. As the county population grows, sprawling development patterns and increasing consumption of water resources result in intensive use and conversion of our natural spring systems.

As demand for domestic, industrial, agricultural, and irrigation water increases, the result of so many consumptive users puts stress on the counties water resources. It is important that the water management districts use the tools of MFLs and reservations to prioritize ecosystem health. Without these tools, increasing numbers of consumptive use permits siphon off shares of our common water resources that will eventually impact the sources of our springs.

There comes a point when the combined impacts surpass a natural water, groundwater and spring system's capacity to function fully and effectively. The ecological services that we rely on from drinking water to recreational opportunities are slowly being diminished. Fish and wildlife could decrease in abundance and range, sometimes to the brink of extinction if actions are not taken today to preserve their habitats today and sources of clean water.

The resolution: Although the Water Management District rules refer to consideration of cumulative impacts, in reality the scope of their evaluations, monitoring and authority they assert to prevent such impacts is becoming more narrow and weaker due to lack of funds, manpower, increased permitting, and pressures from large areas such as Tampa and the St. Petersburg.

The water management districts are required by law to prevent conflicts arising from consumptive use in the entire district. The balancing of needs for large and small consumptive use counties must be extended to natural water systems that lay underneath these counties. The districts must move beyond a limited water supply mission to the broader public interest mission reflected in the conditions for a consumptive use permit and county water needs.

The professional backgrounds of the governing board members of the Water Management District must be balanced to exclude those member that have direct economic ties to Florida's largest water-use industries such as agricultural, mining, real estate/home building and commercial development and urban/suburban infrastructure. Thus the current district board represents dominant economic and political power for the larger counties of the district. It sits in the crossfire of conflicting duties: meeting the water demands of the area's ruling businesses while trying to protect the water and natural systems those businesses exploit, the systems on which the natural environment and residents depend on. More environmental representation is needed now, not tomorrow.

We must establish and enact county policies and regulations of water that meet optimal conditions for the groundwater and springs that sustain us and support a vibrant economy that is so dependent on clean, available water. Citrus County polic makers should coordinate these linkages and close the gap that exists today between regulatory programs at the state and district levels, and local land use planning efforts, none of which is able, in isolation, to protect our water resources and springs. Shared programs linking land acquisition, water conservation, water reuse, nitrogen-free waters, and better water use should be part of the solution.

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