SOS Newsletter October 2012

SAVING THE SUWANNEE
Newsletter of Save Our Suwannee, Inc.
www.saveoursuwannee.org

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October 2012

Save Our Suwannee Meeting — October 18, 2012
Where: Unity Church Address: 8801 NW 39th Ave, Gainesville When: 7:00 pm

Anticipated Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Ecosystem of the Nature Coast, presented by Whitney Gray.

Florida is surrounded on three sides by salt water. The drought we have been in combined with the ever-increasing demand for new fresh water for industry, agriculture and residential development has put great demands on our dwindling fresh water supplies.

Our climate is changing. There is solid data to show that sea levels are already rising and will continue to rise in upcoming decades. In order to prepare for the complications of sea level rise and to understand the impacts it will have on our natural systems, Save Our Suwannee has asked Whitney Gray, Sea Level Rise Outreach Coordinator for Florida Sea Grant and for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to speak to our group about what we can expect as our sea levels rise.

The Suwannee Estuary is one of the most spectacular natural coastal areas left in Florida. Thanks to the nature of the low land surrounding the estuary and the shallow channels, it was not developed with high rises and marinas the way much of Florida has been.

The Federal Government established the 53,000 acre Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge in 1979 to protect one of the largest undeveloped river-delta estuarine systems in the United States. The Lower Suwannee Refuge is critical habitat for swallowtailed kites, bald eagles, Rafinesque’s big-eared bats, gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, West Indian manatees, Gulf sturgeon, whitetailed deer, and eastern wild turkeys. Those are but a few of the wildlife species that inhabit the Refuge.

Natural salt marshes, tidal flats, bottomland hardwood swamps, and pine forests provide habitat for thousands of creatures – both large and small.
Knowledge is power. To ask our local and state governments to make changes that will protect the waterways we love so much, we need to understand what is happening.
Please join us on October 18th at 7:00 pm at the Unity Church in Gainesville.

The address is: 8801 NW 39th Ave., Gainesville.   Go here for map.

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Whitney Gray serves both Florida Sea Grant and the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission (FWC) as a statewide specialist in the effects of climate
change, especially sea level rise, on coastal ecosystems.

Ms. Gray provides up-to-date science-based information and resources to Sea Grant Agents and FWC research and
management personnel, and she supports planning processes in both organizations. Ms. Gray, a fifth generation native Floridian, received a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Florida in 1985 and a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering Sciences with an
emphasis on Systems Ecology in 2012, also from the University of Florida. Her background includes time as a high school and middle school science teacher, a
community volunteer with an emphasis on environmental advocacy, a local elected official in the City of Clearwater, Florida, and a regional environmental/ecological
researcher with the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.

Save Our Suwannee needs you!

Another year is flying by. We are planning for our 2013 Annual Meeting and are looking for volunteers willing to serve on our Board of Directors. If you are interested, please contact Annette Long at 352-490-8930 or long5892@bellsouth.net to learn more. Our
group needs someone to help us schedule meetings and find topics and speakers that will interest our members and help educate the public about our water.

We also need volunteers who can help with our educational booth at outdoor festivals. Since education is our primary mission, it’s essential that we get the word out so we try to set up our informational booth at festivals and events in the Suwannee Region. We
have lots of handouts and other educational information that we need to get out to the people.

Membership Notices – New Plans…
Save Our Suwannee is changing the membership year to a calendar year. All memberships now come due in January as your most recent membership renewal letter has stated.

We are making this change to become a little more efficient in getting everyone
renewed. Please renew your membership in January because we really need all our members. To keep up the work that we do we need you as a member. Numbers do count and the more members we have the more we will be able to influence our legislators. This year we have had ample rain but it still hasn’t brought the water table back to the level it once reached. Without your memberships we don’t have the clout to influence our legislature. So be prepared to renew your membership in January so that we can continue saving not only the Suwannee but our way of life in Florida.

Did someone send out a memo to the big land owners?

All over North and Central Florida, huge forested tracts of land are being clear cut to make way for irrigated crops and pastures.  Everything from mature hardwood hammocks to immature pines are being cleaned up to make way for open fields with large wells
what will need to have consumptive use water permits.

Why now? Why all at the same time? It is very worrying that all of these new fields will go into production and will have crops that will have to be watered and fed—even if we have more droughts in our future. Add to that, with Florida’s poor, sandy soils, even
pasture grass needs fertilizer.  To keep this irrigated land green thousands of tons of fertilizer will have be applied by the growers to make crop production viable.
With the Suwannee, the Santa Fe and most of the springs already impaired with high nutrients and low flows, these new irrigated fields will only compound the problem. There is a Basin Management Action Plan that has been proposed for the Santa Fe and
Suwannee Rivers, but the only “plan” for agriculture BMAP’s seems to be retrofitting old irrigation equipment with low volume spray heads and liquid fertilizer application systems. It will be voluntary not mandatory.   Nowhere does this new plan address the thousands of new wells and new acres going into cultivation/irrigation every day.

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Reports from the Suwannee River Water Management District

Save Our Suwannee President, Annette Long attends most Suwannee River Water Management District Meetings. There is a lot going on at the water management districts right now so we thought we would give a rundown of some of the most important
issues that are being addressed. Thanks to the recent tropical storm systems our most immediate problems from the drought have been pushed back for a few months at least. Some areas of the Suwannee District still have low ground water levels (see map below). There are still very low groundwater levels in northern Madison County, under Lake City, one spot in Bradford County and some very low levels in Alachua County.

There is one well in Lafayette County that had record high ground water levels since records have been kept by the District (see the pink spot with the UP arrow).  It is great that we got the rain that we did, but there has been a multi-year rainfall deficit so we
still have a long way to go before our lakes and springs come up to healthy, sustainable levels again. We need to remember to conserve and move towards habits and future development that creates clean recharge.

Central American Earthquake registers on Suwannee River ground water gauges.

There was a curious anomaly with the District’s groundwater stage gauges last month. Several of the gauges measured a “blip” that showed the level zooming up or down for a second or two at the same time all over the District. This was apparently in response to
a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Central America–Costa Rica–on September 5th .

A similar “blip” resulted in response to the 9.8 mega quake that caused the deadly Indonesian tsunami on December 26, 2004. Coast to coast, short to shore, well to well, our land andwater is all connected.
Bay County Well Field Water Permit Denied following Court Challenge From The News Herald Pensacola September 23, 2012

SAND HILLS — Bay County’s proposal for a well field near the Washington County line was denied by the Northwest Florida Water Management District on Thursday after a two-year legal battle. Earlier this summer administrative law Judge David Maloney issued an opinion in the dispute that pitted Bay County and the staff of the Northwest Florida Water Management District against Washington County and the Knight Family Trust, a large landholder in northern Bay and southern Washington counties. Bay County insisted the well field is necessary as a backup water supply should Deer Point Lake, Bay County’s only source of drinking water, be contaminated, but Washington County and the Knight family trust insisted the wells would have a profound negative effect on the sensitive environment of the Sa County failed to provide “reasonable assurances natural systems would not be significantly affected” by the well field.

The water management district’s board chose to uphold the judge’s recommendation after hearing from attorneys for both sides and members of the community group, Save the Sand Hills Lakes Coalition.
The original proposal would have allowed Bay County to draw 5 million gallons of water per day from 10 wells act, and 30 million gallons for up to 52 days in the event of an emergency. After Maloney’s recommendation was issued, Bay County volunteered to
reduce the number of wells to eight and the daily withdrawal to 2 million gallons per day, but both plans were rejected. The need for an alternate source of potable water is something on which Bay County and the water management district agree, according to Shaw, so alternatives to the well field are being investigated. One scenario involves putting a pumping station along Econfina Creek in the northern part of the county to draw off the water before it reaches Deer Point Lake. This option still would leave Bay County vulnerable to contamination of surface water, but the threat is not as great away from potential hazards of traffic and saltwater intrusion near the Deer Point dam.

“We need to find an alternative water source, and how we do it isn’t up to us; it’s up to the district and the state,” Shaw said.

Bay County took about $1 million from the utility fund to invest in the well field project and the water management district invested about $2 million, according to Shaw.  This was a rare victory for a unique vanishing habitat. The famous ecologist Roland Harper said in 1911 publication on Northern Florida that this Karst Lake region was unlike any in America. One of the points for the Water Use Permit being held not in the public
interest was the push to protect the rare ecological values of this lake, springs, wetlands and imperiled species dependent upon surficial and Floridan aquifers. Even though this didn’t happen in the Suwannee District, the decision may be an important precedent
as there are similar “top of the aquifer” lakes in our region as well. When it came to the end, the North West Florida Water Management District and the Water Utility had to prove they were NOT going to cause harm and apparently could not.

Cedar Key’s water supply no longer salty for now In late May this year, Cedar Key’s public water supply became so salty that it was no longer safe to drink. The city brought in a small desalinization unit and is now supplying, clean perfect water to their customers. According to Suwannee River Water Management District officials, the high salinity issues in Cedar Key’s wells have resolved due to the excessive rainfall received during June through September this year. Report on the springs following the summer flood.

Many of the springs on the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers have cleared and are flowing since the flood but it took much longer than it used to for the brown river water to be flushed from the springs this time. On the Santa Fe River, the visibility in the springs at
cave diving mecca Ginnie Springs is still slightly green. When Jacques Cousteau dove the springs there in the 1970’s he declared the water to be so clear as to have“visibility forever.”


Falmouth Spring is flowing again after a long period of being a stagnant sink hole. The flowing water is very brown, but appears to have a ground water component as you can see your hand in front of your face while snorkeling there. The Falmouth Spring Cave
System was physically connected under the ground to the Lime Spring/Lime Sink Cave by cave divers in the past when the visibility ,was better.

Historically following a flood, the water flowing through Falmouth Spring eventually made its way to the Lime Spring/Sink Run and emptied into the Suwannee River at Suwannee River State Park. Below is a photo of the Lime Spring Run taken in 1998. The second photo was taken on following the recent flood on 9-17-12.


Levy Blue Spring had quit flowing during the drought and has not recovered even though the swamps surrounding the spring are full of water. The county park was closed all summer and it looks like it may not clear up any time soon. It’s a shame because it was a
very popular swimming hole and was an important revenue producer for Levy County during the summer months. Local restaurants also said they felt the pinch of the spring being closed for the summer.

Hart Springs on the Suwannee River is finally clearing up. There is still a brown color to the water but the visibility has improved to almost 20 feet. It’s not clear why it has taken Hart so much longer to clear up than the other springs.

Florida’s Water Management Districts “Surplussing Unnecessary” Public Lands
At the direction of the Governor’s Office and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida’s Water Management Districts have been asked to re-evaluate all of the lands that they own and sell any lands that are not absolutely essential to flood protection and prevention. They may also keep lands that contribute directly to the new mission of the districts. What that means in the Suwannee River Water Management District is that portions of many parcels that have been purchased over the years are being sold because they are considered uplands and have become a burden to the SRWMD.  Some of these lands are important recharge land that are near the river and are in mature, healthy pine wiregrass habitat that is rapidly becoming rare in Florida.
It is concerning that these lands were purchased with Florida Forever or Preservation 2000 money back when real estate prices were much higher and now they are being sold while prices are considerably down.  What may happen with at least one parcel near the
Suwannee River is that the new landowner will likely cut the trees, install irrigation wells and put the land into irrigated, fertilized crops.  Doing this only to turn the former protected recharge land into a consumptive use withdrawal that will add to the pollution
that is already too high in our impaired Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers just doesn’t make sense.

Historically our Florida leaders saw the possibility of a fully developed state with little or no natural areas remaining for millions of Floridian’s benefit.  Over the years, the state has purchased thousands of acres for State Parks, Refuges and Wildlife Management
Areas so the public would always have some areas of natural Florida left for habitat protection.  Programs like Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever were large scale land buying programs that were designated specifically to protect rare and threatened habitats,
water quality recharge areas and to provide more recreational and hunting opportunities for Floridians.  Our current Florida leaders have mostly ignored those excellent land acquisition programs. In fact they are actively pressing the Water Management Districts to sell precious public lands that have already been purchased.

In last month’s newsletter, we told you about the Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Program. If you want to help to try to turn the trend of selling public lands around you can help by gathering signed petitions to place this item on the ballot.

If you have any questions, you can go to: http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/
If you want to help with the “on the ground effort to get petitions signed in our area, you can pick up volunteer “petition packets” at: Brasington’s Trail Shop, 2331 NW 13th St., Gainesville, FL 32609, (352) 372-0521, Mon-Sat, 10am to 7pm.

 Go here to print or download this October 2012 Newsletter.

 

 

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