How Low Is Too Low, For Our Waterways?

 

Drought is a near constant here. Water conservation has permeated the human consciousness with slogans like, “If it’s yellow – let it mellow.”. Irrigation restrictions have increased steadily, with enforcement and penalties getting tough on violators. Yet it seems that demand is unquenchable. Do we draw a line in the sand?

The SWFWMD Governing Board will be meeting at 9 AM on October 30th, 2012, for their regular meeting (Agenda here). This meeting will include a decision on lowering the mandated “Minimum Flows” for the Homosassa and Chassahowitzka Rivers (by 3% and 9% respectively). These rates become the minimum water level that’s considered permissible. Water withdrawal permits are issued based on the natural levels of the waterway and how much such withdrawals may draw down on the river’s flow (to minimum levels). Since water is pumped from the ground and not drawn directly from the river, there is some estimation involved. One point of contention is the basis for the natural level. Many long time residents will tell you, that what is currently considered natural, is below the levels they saw years before. These rivers are fed by many springs pushing fresh water downstream. Our consumption of this resource comes at the price of saltwater pushing back up river, as the pressure from the springs decreases. Salinity greatly affects the habitats and breeding grounds of aquatic species, and these effects can already be seen now. Our area is blessed with these resources, both being declared Outstanding Waters by the State of Florida, deeming them worthy of extra protection.

Stakeholder meetings were held during 2011, but you can still voice your opinion on this issue. They will only hear comments from people in attendance at the meeting.  Carpools have been organized (by The Homosassa River Alliance) in Homosassa, leaving at 8AM from the Homosassa Publix (near Hardees). The meeting will be held at SWFWMD headquarters, 2379 Broad Street, Brooksville, FL.

**UPDATE:

The results of the meeting were interesting. Many came and were heard, raising awareness on some key points. A petition with well over 11,000 signatures in opposition was presented. People spoke of saltwater intrusion, rising sea levels and the existing “Dead Zones” in these rivers. No one spoke in support of the original MFL proposal. The Board chose not to just rubber stamp staff recommendations, but instead to find some middle ground. The decision was to set 3% Minimum Flow Levels, from the established Natural Levels on both rivers – plus more studies that take into account economic value, ecologic changes unrelated to MFL’s and water quality. These studies are what need to be pursued and the public needs to keep asking for. Concerned citizen, Beverly Overa stated, “They understand that we are a force to be reckoned with – educated stakeholders who won’t back down and don’t have to.”

Tampa Times coverage of the meeting, here.

 

 

From the Agenda announcement:

Initiation and Approval of Rulemaking to Amend Rule 40D-8.041, Florida Administrative Code, to Establish Minimum Flows for the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa River Systems and Accept Reports.
Purpose
To request the Board initiate and approve rulemaking to amend Rule 40D-8.041, Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.), to establish minimum flows for the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa river systems, and accept the reports entitled “Recommended Minimum Flows for the Chassahowitzka River System” and “Recommended Minimum Flows for the Homosassa River System,” dated July 15, 2012.
Background/History
The Chassahowitzka River System is located on the west coast of Florida at the border of Hernando and Citrus counties, and includes more than a dozen springs. The Homosassa River System is located approximately five miles north of the Chassahowitzka River System in coastal Citrus County, and includes more than 20 springs. Both systems receive minimal surface runoff from their respective watersheds, with the majority of flow in each arising from a much larger groundwater basin that yields relatively constant discharge with little seasonal variation. The Chassahowitzka River and Homosassa River are designated as Outstanding Florida Waters. Staff submitted draft reports outlining recommended minimum flows for the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa river systems to the Governing Board in April and July 2010, respectively. These initial recommendations required that 89 percent of the natural flow in the Chassahowitzka system and 95 percent of the natural flow in the Homosassa system be maintained. Natural flow is defined as the flow that would exist in the absence of water withdrawals. Findings from separate, independent, scientific reviews by panels of experts were supportive of the minimum flow recommendations and were presented to the Board in August and November 2010. In addition to the scientific peer review, the District facilitated stakeholder review by hosting four public workshops between October 2010 and January 2011. Based on stakeholder interest, three additional public workshops were held in spring-summer 2011, and the District facilitated a fourth stakeholder-organized workshop in October 2011. The workshops were well attended and information associated with the events was posted on the District’s Springs Coast Minimum Flows and Levels Working Group web page. Additional outreach activities resulted in District participation in a total of 30 meetings and exchange of more than 1,000 correspondences with stakeholders. Stakeholder input was focused around four primary issues: (1) use of 15 percent change criteria for developing minimum flows; (2) environmental change that has been observed recently should not be exacerbated by withdrawal-related flow reductions; (3) minimum flows should address the ambient water quality standard associated with Outstanding Florida Water rules and the Federal Clean Water Act; and (4) various technical issues that may require additional consideration, including those associated with discharge records, groundwater flow modeling, manatee responses to recent, extremely cold winters, and other organism responses to flow changes. In response to peer-review panel and stakeholder input, staff developed revised minimum flow recommendations for the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa river systems, and outlined the analyses supporting the revised recommendations in updated minimum flow reports, dated July 15, 2012, and provided as Exhibits “A” and “C” (copies available upon request). Peer review and stakeholder input are included as appendices to the updated reports. Revised minimum flow recommendations for the two river systems were discussed with stakeholders at a public workshop held on October 2, 2012. The revised, recommended minimum flows for the Chassahowitzka River System are 91 percent of its natural flow; and the revised, recommended minimum flows for the Homosassa River System are 97 percent of its natural flow. There are currently no permitted surface
withdrawals from either system, and flow reductions in each that may be associated with groundwater withdrawals are minimal (~1%). The District is committed to the reevaluation of minimum flows that are adopted for the systems, as necessary, and staff recommends that minimum flows for the systems should be evaluated within ten years of their adoption. The proposed rule language for establishment of the minimum flows for the Chassahowitzka River System and Homosassa River System are included as Exhibits “B” and “D,” respectively.
Benefits/Costs
The recommended minimum flows will protect the natural resources of the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa river systems from significant harm that may occur as a result of water withdrawals. The development of a recovery strategy or Statement of Estimated Regulatory Costs is not required for either system. Upon Governing Board approval of the proposed rule language, staff will submit notice to the Governor’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform (OFARR) and proceed with formal rulemaking without further Governing Board action. If substantive changes are necessary as the result of comments received from the public or reviewing entities such as OFARR or the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, this matter will be brought back to the Governing Board for consideration.

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