Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hearing Ended Today--Our Case Recap

I apologize for the delay in blogging. Yesterday, I spent all day at the hearing, and then had to drive back to Jacksonville for a fund raising event. Thanks to Helen Lane for hosting a gathering at her beautiful house on the St. Johns. It was nice to spend some time on the river, especially after spending almost three weeks in a stark, government building.

Well, today was the last day. SJRK rested its case yesterday. Our witnesses did well. We presented Dr. John Wolschlager from Arizona State University who testified that he believed Seminole County had used incorrect numbers in developing their reuse water supply plan. Basically, John, and others believe there is no need for Seminole to remove water from the St. Johns to augment their reuse water needs. Water conservation can produce the water the county needs for reuse and protect the river.

Understand this, Seminole County’s obsession with removing water from the rivers has never been about augmenting reuse—they want to take water from the river for profit. They do not give a damn about the St. Johns River; the river provides them a cheap source of water. The structure they propose to build will be able to remove 10 times their predicted needs of 5.5 MGD. It’s simple, they want sell water; the 5.5 MGD permit is a scam.

By the way, Seminole officials have criticized north Florida communities for not having meaningful water conservation plans like the ones they have in place. FACT (from testimony): Southwest(?) Seminole County’s per capita water use is 217 GPD --almost 40% larger than per capita average water use in the SJRWMD. Can you say hypocrite?

Our next witness was Dr. Quinton White. You make remember Dr. White was one of the first experts who challenged the SJRWMD’s plan to take water from the St. Johns River. Quint has been studying the river for over 30 years, and testified eloquently about the current impaired state of the river, and additional risks from water withdrawal.

Next up was Dr. Mark Luther, a marine biologist from the faculty of the University of South Florida. Dr. Luther testified that the model used to predict salinity changes caused by the proposed withdrawals have been underestimated because of dynamic salinity stratification occurs n the lower St. Johns River. He testified that removing even small amounts of freshwater from the river could cause significant salinity changes far upstream.

Our final witness was Robin Lewis a wetland ecologist. Robin testified about the impairment of the River and specific ecosystems. He presented evidence that flow to the river have been declining for decades. He stated flow from the Ocklawaha River, the River’s largest tributary, has declined by almost 50%. He also testified about impacts to the River’s Ell Grass beds from increasing salinities. Robin believes the salinity studies are "fatally flawed"

Speaking of declining flows in the river. When SJRK first challenged the SJRWMD's dangerous idea of removing freshwater from the St. Johns, they noted that 12 million gallons per day (MGD) has been removed from the river for decades, and the river has not shown harm. Later, the SJRWMD noted that, lo and behold, they determined that 29 MGD) was being removed from the St Johns. Shortly after that admission, District staff estimated over 30 MGD was being removed from the river.

During the hearing, District staff TESTIFIED they now estimate almost 60 MGD is being removed from the St. Johns every day. Why does this matter?

When the SJRWMD determined how much water could be removed for the river safely, i.e., the MFLs, the 60 MGD removal was never considered. The only reason the district bothered to compute this data was for the purposes of this hearing.

In fact, more science about water withdrawals has been generated by this hearing and the public’s outcry for an objective analysis than before the SJRWMD recommended approval of the Yankee Lake Permit!

One thing is evident. Our challenge of this permit has clearly shown the District did not fully consider the full environmental impacts of this permit and did not have sufficient information on which to base a permit decision. Need evidence to support my conclusion?

Last week the District staff person who drafted the Yankee Lake permit testified that he did the cumulative impact analysis, i.e., the deliberation on all the environmental impacts AND potential environmental impacts of the proposed Yankee Lake river withdrawals on the health of the St. Johns River, IN HIS HEAD.

Think about that. One of the most controversial decisions facing the SJRWMD in decades, and one of the more important analyses involving this permit was not written down. A staff person did it in his head. Incredible.

And the SJRWMD asks why the public has lost trust in the agency?

More Later. I'll wrap up the last day's action, tomorrow.

Thanks for your support. It means a great deal.

Looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, I remain,

Neil A. Armingeon
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

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