The Amy H Remley Foundation  

October 21, 2007

Withlacoochee Water Woes.

by Priscilla Watkins, president Homosassa River Alliance.
Published CC Chronicle Commentary Sunday, October 21st, 2007.



Word began circulating in July that the St. John's River Water Management District (SJRWMD) had named our Withlacoochee River as one of its potential "alternative water supply" sources after 2013, although the Withlacoochee River lies entirely within the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). It was, and still remains, cause for high alarm. Keep in the front of your mind the fact that Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs) will not be fully set for the Withlacoochee River until 2011 and you can understand that the potential is there for reckless draw-downs resulting in major losses to all of the watershed areas on the Withlacoochee and a negative impact on the rest of our county's springs and rivers.

People here are well aware of the drought-related problems with the Tsala Apopka chain of lake levels and recently learned of die-offs in the lower river. Without the MFL data evaluated and a requirement to count the real use per capita/per day draws by private wells, there is no way to determine what is the proper flow rate to support ecosystem functions and keep our river and its estuary alive. Man is just one part of this ecosystem; it all requires a measurable amount of clean water. The WMDs are measuring the need now to set those MFLs.

In addition to lack of levels for the Withlacoochee River and its lakes, none of the First Magnitude Springs in our area have MFLs set at this time. Weeki Wachee is due this year but not yet done. Rainbow and Chassahowitzka springs are projected for 2008, King's Bay will not be until 2010. In the October special Legislative session, the Department of Environmental Protection has offered up its water programs for budget cuts, meaning further delays to proper assessments of MFLs.


The issue was made an agenda item for the Withlacoochee Regional Water Supply Authority (WRWSA) board meeting on September 19th in Brooksville. Board members wanted to hear SWFWMD's response to the SJRWMD plan because development of this plan had not included anyone from the WRWSA. Many Homosassa River Alliance members traveled to Brooksville to attend, joining a large number of conservation activists in packing the Hernando County Board room. What we heard from SWFWMD was not good.


Citrus County and the WRWSA board seem determined to never share their water with over-built Water management Districts, and that position was affirmed by our State Representatives, but that may not matter.

We learned that the Department of Environmental Protection and its sister agencies, the Water Management Districts (WMDs), have established a new way to more easily target each others' resources. These means are being achieved by the establishment of "regions" overlapping one or more WMDs. The overlap method was not made clear by SWFWMD executive director David Moore at the Brooksville meeting. So when Mr. Moore repeatedly said that regional transfers are a good idea, the implication was he meant "regions within our district." But he did not mean that. Some of SJRWMD's counties and some of SWFWMD's are in a newly created region known as the Central Florida Coordination Area (CFCA). So, suddenly, we learned that the WMDs are bedding down together to make all water local.

They can do this. The Florida Supreme Court more than a decade ago affirmed the state has control over water distribution through the Department of Environmental Protection. Our state legislature merely requires agreement between districts.


Here is another good cause for continued alarm. In the SWFWMD Regional Water Supply Plan issued on December 1, 2006, on page xv, under Executive Summary, it states: "The District did not prepare a (Regional Water Supply Plan) for counties in the Northern Planning Area ... based on the general lack of existing regional impacts to water resources." So, there is currently no "Plan" for our area because they do not know how current use is impacting the area. Note the term "existing" omits counting the already approved developments not yet built. But St John's River WMD does have a Plan and it names our resource.

The same section notes however, that the District is involved in planning (regional) activities with WRWSA, Marion County and the St. John's River WMD. Without MFL knowledge, that's insultingly premature to be planning with other WMDS.


Board members were clearly angry with the proposal and fully opposed to it. Going further, Chairman Joyce Valentino said that there should be a concurrency requirement between development and available water and that SWFWMD should stop approving development permits until minimum flows and levels are set for all rivers and groundwater in the SWFWMD area. Her remarks were backed by Hernando County commissioners. Commissioner Garry Bartell urged Mr. Moore to look into creating treated waste water in concert with Progress Energy's power plant. WRWSA's executive director, Jack Sullivan, pointed out that WRWSA had been left out of the loop in planning this proposal until they were asked in late July to host a meeting to discuss it. WRWSA's Board voted in opposition to hosting such a meeting.

Senator Charlie Dean made his position clear: declaring the proposal "irresponsible." Dean said that St John's district problems were clearly due to overbuilding and meeting its water needs should not be at another District's expense. Representative Ron Schultz concurred, noting that developments have been "growing like mushrooms" on the central ridge of Florida and they are being subsidized by the less populated counties.

Schultz warned that any planning for inter-district transfers would get the Legislature involved and, because it would impact the estuaries in the Gulf, it would also become a national issue. "No one is safe", he said, "when the government gets involved". He urged the plan be dropped.


Clearly, every one involved in water issues has to keep informed. And we need action. We need to lobby for legal assurance that all water draw-downs, particularly private, un-metered well usage, in every District be measured and counted along with the metered amount now approved for drawn-down from each aquifer. For the WMDs to continue to ignore those numbers is sheer folly.

We have to make sure that the latest science is applied to ensure optimum health levels for our springs and rivers and groundwater. We must make it clear that environmental needs are requirements, not just "concerns".

We need to insist that at least Citrus County votes for concurrency between growth permits and water availability. We need to press our elected politicians to demand concurrency in all of the Water Management Districts as well.

We also have to voice our positions at meetings and in writing. We need to keep articles in the newspaper to assure citizens are informed. Directors of the Homosassa River Alliance have been active in this regard for years and are now partnering closely with other environmental groups to speak with a loud and consistent voice. The goal is sustaining water for all biospheres including human life. We can do that if we work together.

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