Ron Littlepage on recent Sleepy Creek Decision

Subject: Opinion column on Sleepy Creek, Fla Times Union

Ron Littlepage: Water officials are all wet
By Ron Littlepage Thu, Jul 16, 2015 @ 1:37 pm

Appointed by a governor who regularly ignores science, board members of the St. Johns River Water Management District switched teams this week and became champions of “science” when they approved another massive withdrawal of water from the already overtaxed Floridan aquifer.
This permit allows a giant cattle ranch not far from suffering Silver Springs to use up to 1.46 million gallons of water a day, mostly for irrigating pastures, to raise grass-fed beef.

Never mind that draining the aquifer has already dramatically reduced the flow of the once majestic Silver Springs.

Never mind that runoff overloaded with nitrates from such things as cow manure and fertilizer has already polluted the waters of the springs and the Silver River.

The water management district’s staff ruled that the “science” shows the additional drain on the aquifer won’t cause any harm.

It’s worth noting here that members of that staff were fired not long ago when their scientific findings didn’t mesh with the governor’s world view.

What if the current “science” is wrong?

Board members assured that if harm is found during the 20 years the permit is valid, the permit can be revisited and changed.

History shows that’s laughable.

For decades, the water management district has granted consumptive use permits right and left, all presumably based on science that no harm to the district’s rivers and springs would result.

During those decades, the reduced flows and pollution have become so great that they can’t be ignored.

Have any of those past permits been revisited? Not once in the agency’s history.

Don’t hold your breath that this one would be any different.

At last Tuesday’s board meeting, agricultural interests spoke in favor of giving the permit to Sleepy Creek Lands, once known as Adena Springs Ranch.

One called farmers and ranchers the “hunger fighters” in a country where one in seven children go to bed hungry.

I seriously doubt those children will ever get their protein from grass-fed beef.

And with the production of just one pound of beef requiring about 2,000 gallons of water, there are certainly more efficient ways for getting protein into their diets.

Another man touted the “by-products” of the ranch’s operations — leather for shoes and car seats.

Sorry, a healthy Silver Springs is more important.

A Marion County farmer who grows peanuts on 850 acres spoke in favor of granting the permit, saying his crops are 100 percent dependent on irrigation.

But he might want to reconsider his support.

Real science shows that as more and more water is taken from the aquifer, salt water intrudes into the fresh water. That eventually will make the water he depends on worthless.

Dozens of people spoke against granting the permit.

They eloquently described what Silver Springs and the Silver River mean to them and the importance of restoring and preserving them for their children and grandchildren.

As expected, their pleas fell on deaf ears, and the board voted unanimously to approve the permit based on the “science” even though other scientists have pointed out the flaws in those conclusions.

What’s happening at this water management district and the four others in the state adds more credence to what’s been proven over and over:

Elections have consequences. The current path to further degrade Florida’s environment at the altar of jobs, jobs, jobs shows that.

By the way, the few jobs created by Sleepy Creek Lands will pale in comparison to those lost when Silver Springs and the Silver River aren’t worth visiting anymore. (904) 359-4284