Starting in early 2003, an influential group of business leaders, called “The Florida Council of 100”, met behind closed doors to divvy up the state's water supply. Those meetings resulted in the development of a report published in September, 2003, entitled, Improving Florida’s Water Supply Management Structure.
The controversial report called for the establishment of a statewide water supply commission and presented the idea of redirecting of North Florida’s precious water resources to thirsty, booming Central and South Florida. The report also called for the alteration of the water management law policy at that time called “Local Sources First.”
The report caused a firestorm. The specifics of the Council’s closed meetings that led to the report were published in numerous newspapers accounts statewide. The idea that communities that had allowed unsustainable growth and were suffering water shortage issues would be allowed to take water from other areas was universally condemned.
The Florida Senate sponsored a series of public hearings to discuss the report, and at every venue, citizens denounced the idea of piping water from north Florida to south and central Florida. The opposition to the Council’s report was so overwhelming, that many felt that the idea of water transfers had been defeated. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
The ideas put forth by the Council are not dead. To the contrary, the Council’s ideas have been moving forward under the guidance of the State’s Water Management Districts. The idea of taking water from one area of the state to meet the needs of another is no longer a concept, it is a reality. Unfortunately, the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers are the testing grounds for this experiment.
• The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) has stated that central Florida has out-stripped the Floridan aquifer’s ability to provide a sustainable drinking water source beyond 2013. The District has told communities they will have to seek alternative water sources (AWS).
• The SJRWMD has stated that 155 million gallon days (MGD) can be “safely” removed from the St. Johns River between the headwaters and Deland (State Road 44). The term “safely” applies to the District’s belief that a 155 MGD withdrawal will not affect the aquatic health of the river or its ecosystem.
• At a July 18 meeting in Orlando, various cities and counties submitted ~ 46 withdrawal projects/proposals vying for the 155 MGD.
• Because river water has a high salt or mineral content, most withdrawals will involve reverse osmosis, or RO. A by-product of RO is high mineral content and/or very salty water. RO water is also high in nutrients. The byproducts, or pollutants, are called “concentrate”. The SJRWMD has recently started a study to document the problems with concentrate on the river environment—the study will end in a year.
• The SJRWMD is also focusing its attention on the lower Ocklawaha River. Although District staff has not set a minimum flow level, or MFL, for the Ocklawaha River, the agency is telling counties to expect to be able to withdraw 90 to 108 MGD from the river.
• The SJRWMD is currently looking at potential withdrawals from the St. Johns River totaling 262 MGD.
• Withdrawals from the St. Johns will impact the river’s salinity line.
• One of the largest proposed water withdrawals, Yankee Lake, is planned in an area just south of the Wekiva Aquatic Preserve! Also, this plant could eventually discharge concentrate into the river.
• The only county proposing to withdraw water from the River that has a mandatory water conservation plan is Volusia County. None of the other counties or municipalities that are planning water withdrawals has mandatory water conservation programs.
• The current withdrawals plans will only provide drinking water needs until ~2030, less than 25 years into the future.
1. St. Johns Riverkeeper is concerned that the withdrawals from the St. Johns and the Ocklawaha Rivers have the potential to harm the health of both rivers.
2. The SJRWMD has minimized the risks to the River’s ecological health by portraying the withdrawals as a simple percentage of the river’s total flows.
3. The withdrawals will cause the river’s salinity line to shift upstream especially during low flow conditions. No one, including the SJRWMD, fully understands the potential impacts to the river’s health and fisheries from the proposed withdrawals.
4. In addition to withdrawing water from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha, the SJRWMD is also proposing to utilize Aquifer Storage Recovery, or ASR, a process that injects minimally treated water back into the ground water aquifers. There are risks associated with this procedure. For example, ASR has been linked to high levels of arsenic found in the stored water because of chemical changes during the storage process.
5. “Concentrate” from the RO process could harm the river’s health by adding additional pollutants to an already stressed system.
6. SJRK is concerned the SJRWMD could issue numerous withdrawal permits before the concentrate study is completed.
7. The SJRWMD has not required mandatory conservation programs in an attempt to reduce the need to withdraw river water.
8. All of the District’s studies rationalizing and/or minimizing the environmental impacts of water withdrawal have been done “in house”, i.e. written by staff or consultants paid for by the District. There has been no independent review of any of these reports.
9. Once the river water withdrawal program is started, there will be no turning back, regardless if the act is harming the River’s ecological health.