Central Florida Water Wars Pits Silver Springs Against Cattle
The following is part 2 of a 2 part series by Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel and is posted with permission. It exemplifies how competing interests are fighting for Florida’s water. It contains video with links at the end. Thanks, Kevin!
Canadian auto-parts magnate Frank Stronach asked in December for a permit that would allow him to drill into the state’s underground aquifer near famed Silver Springs in Marion County — and pump as much water as a medium-sized city uses each day — so he can develop a ranch capable of sustaining 30,000 head of cattle.
The fight pits several groups of volunteers and their cash donations against a billionaire businessman and, potentially, the taxpayer-funded agency that issues water-use permits in Central and North Florida.
Yet it may not be a mismatch, for environmentalists statewide have taken notice of the controversy and view it as a unifying flash point. A major rally in support of the springs is set for Saturday.
“For decades, environmentalists have negotiated the best deal possible for natural Florida, and that approach, while it certainly has stalled total destruction, has not saved our resources long-term,” said Karen Ahlers, a longtime Ocklawaha River advocate in Putnam County. “In many cases we’ve waited too long to draw a line in the sand. If not now, when?”
This fight also channels emotions generated last year when the city of Jacksonville renewed its permit to pump huge amounts of water from the Floridan Aquifer, the primary source of drinking water for Central and North Florida.
During meetings and hearings for the Jacksonville permit, environmentalists, lakefront-property owners and some government officials in more than a half-dozen counties around the northeast Florida city had urged the water district to do more to protect the distressed aquifer, fearing that Jacksonville’s thirst for water is already draining springs, wetlands and lakes far from the city center.
Angered that their concerns went unheard, opponents of the city’s permit were also disappointed in themselves that they hadn’t mounted a fiercer defense of Florida’s waters.
So when Stronach applied for his permit to pump 13 million gallons of water a day from the aquifer near Silver Springs, many of those embittered by the Jacksonville experience had a similar reaction: Game on.
Stronach proposes to operate his 25,000-acre spread north of Ocala as something between a standard ranch and a factory-scale feedlot.
His name for the property, Adena Springs Ranch, comes not from the state’s rich collection of springs but from his Kentucky farm. He has begun carving out 10,000 acres of pasture that would be irrigated with aquifer water at a rate of nearly 13 million gallons a day, or about what the city of Ocala consumes.
His permit request comes amid growing agreement among environmentalists and regulators that the underground aquifer is so heavily pumped now that it might have no more than a few million gallons a day left to offer in many parts of the state. The St. Johns water district, whose territory extends from Jacksonville to Orlando, has not seen a brand-new request for so much water in at least a decade.
Florida ranchers historically have produced calves that are trucked to pastures and feed lots in Midwestern states for fattening. The Adena Springs Ranch would raise its calves on grass to maturity and then slaughter them on site, as premium beef, in a large building now under construction.
Stronach’s experts say they used the water district’s methodology to calculate the ranch’s potential harm to the aquifer and to Silver Springs, and concluded there was none.
“When we ran that model, the quantities of water we are asking for had absolutely no impact on Silver Springs,” said Ed de la Parte, a lawyer who works for Stronach and also helped Jacksonville get its permit. Manure would be recycled as pasture fertilizer, he said, so rainwater running off the property into the springs’ environment would be as clean or cleaner than it is today.
Silver Springs, where glass-bottom boat tours began in the late 1800s, already is tinted green from algae growth and plagued by weeds, both of which are fed by pollution from street and storm-drain runoff and from sewage.
The springs’ once-prodigious flow has also dwindled sharply, which environmentalists say is the result of too much pumping from the Floridan Aquifer, robbing the area of water that would otherwise gush from the springs.
Stronach’s experts blame that drop in water flow on unexplained disruptions to the limestone holes and fissures that funnel aquifer water to the springs.
By: Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel – firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5062