Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The River's Future Rests in Sanford

Hello Friends of the St. Johns,
Tomorrow the administrative hearing on the Yankee Lake permit begins. The hearing goes October 1 through the 3rd, October 6th through the 10th, and resumes, if necessary, October 16-17th. I will be attending the hearing each day, save a few, and will be posting a recap each night on the St. Johns Riverkeeper blog.
Our challenge is to the SJRWMD's recommended issuance of a permit to allow Seminole County to remove 5.5 million gallons per day (MGD) from the St. Johns River. But, our fight goes well beyond the SJRWMD legal staff.
Seminole County intervened, and frankly, they are driving the case. We're facing a tough battle; Seminole County is spending over $2 million to push the Yankee Lake permit through. They have listed 30 witnesses and 1,100 exhibits! Despite this display of money, political influence, and power, I'm feeling optimistic about our chances.
Riverkeeper has two excellent attorneys, Riverkeeper Counsel, Michael Howle, and local attorney Ken Wright. They both deserve our thanks for long hours and dedication as they prepare our case. We also have some excellent expert witnesses who will help us make our case against the proposed water withdrawal.
Thanks go to Jacksonville and St. Johns County for sticking with their individual challenges to the permit. Specifically, I want to thank Mayor Peyton and the City Council for recognizing the importance of this case and directing the city's legal efforts. Thanks, too, to Chairman Tom Manuel and his fellow commissioners in St. Johns County. We're all in this together.
We've already made progress on this issue. Two weeks ago, the SJRWMD convened a panel of experts to objectively review the potential impacts from withdrawing hundreds of millions of gallons of freshwater each day from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers. This group has some world class scientists aboard to review, and in some cases, collect data, to truly evaluate the environmental impacts of the proposed withdrawals. The results of this reanalysis will then be reviewed by a panel convened by the National Academy of Science.
None of this would have happened without Riverkeeper, other groups, and countless citizens who have challenged the SJRWMD's misguided proposal to remove freshwater from our rivers to continue unsustainable growth in Orlando and Central Florida.
Our voices and actions forced the District to conduct the type of research that should have been completed before any permit to withdraw water from the river was considered. This is real progress. Thank you.
The withdrawal issue has also cemented real relationships between citizens up and down the St. Johns River. I want to thank Friends of the Wekiva, the Sierra Club, the Seminole Audubon, and countless citizens in central Florida who oppose water withdrawals and want to see real, meaningful, water conservation programs in their counties and cities. Special thanks go out to Peggy Belflower for all her hard work.
The withdrawal battle begun a statewide debate on the future of water use in Florida. We all must be active in this debate--Our river's futures depend on it.
I'll keep you posted on the hearing through this blog. Please share it with your family and friends. If you would like mto attend the hearing contact the Riverkeeper office for directions. I'd love to see friendly faces.
Thanks for all your help and support. It means a great deal to me.
For the River,
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper