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Central Florida’s newly updated water supply plan leaves springs under threat

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Central Florida’s newly updated water supply plan leaves springs under threat

Our growing population’s thirst for water is projected to increase 53 percent in the next 20 years and water managers’ plans to meet the demand could harm our springs.

A new draft 2020 plan for managing water supplies says the Floridan Aquifer — the state’s underwater sponge-like limestone system that provides water to people and the environment — can safely support withdrawals of 760 million gallons a day in Central Florida. After that, there is too little water to keep springs and rivers flowing at healthy levels.

The new draft water plan predicts groundwater withdrawals in central Florida will increase to 855 million gallons a day by 2040 unless more aggressive water conservation programs and/or alternative water supplies are implemented. And here’s another problem: Water managers have already granted permits to allow withdrawals of more than a billion gallons a day. Not all of those permits are in use now; some are planned for future growth.

How is Central Florida going to meet these growing water demands while protecting the water needs of lakes, wetlands, springs and rivers that support our natural environment, agriculture, tourism, economy, and community lifestyles?

Every five years, water managers update the Regional Water Supply Plan (RWSP) to address water use, conservation, alternative water supplies and other issues. The draft 2020 plan was authored by the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) composed of three water authorities that have jurisdiction in the region that includes Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Polk and part of southern Lake Counties. Those authorities are the South Florida, St. Johns River and Southwest Florida water management districts.

We believe their draft plan is woefully inadequate and actually leaves Central Florida’s natural environment in danger.

The draft plan forecasts that flows in the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs will fall short of their currently mandated minimum flows by 2027 if groundwater withdrawals continue to increase as projected. Already, Palm Springs, one of the springs that feeds into the Wekiva River, falls short of its required minimum flows.

The draft plan identifies potential conservation measures and 39 alternative water supply projects that could reduce groundwater withdrawals. However, none of the proposed alternative water supply projects within the Wekiwa springshed would significantly reduce groundwater withdrawals.

Although public water supply demand is projected to increase 53 percent between 2015 and 2040, with lawn irrigation accounting for the biggest chunk, the identified conservation measures would reduce that demand by about only 7 percent. The plan estimates agricultural operations will reduce their water use by only 2.5 percent.

Potential alternative water supplies include drilling deeper wells in some areas, so water closer to surface isn’t tapped for all of the additional needs. However, withdrawing groundwater from deeper wells can also reduce water levels in the Upper Floridan Aquifer, which would reduce the flows from our springs. Another idea is building reservoirs or other storage areas to capture water from the St. Johns River during high flow conditions. The Taylor Creek Reservoir, currently used by the City of Cocoa Beach to store water, is an example.

To protect our springs and rivers in the Wekiva basin, Friends of the Wekiva River believes the water management districts must require utilities, industry, agriculture and other water users to implement aggressive water conservation measures, particularly for irrigation of landscaping, It is also urgent to protect the dwindling flows of Starbuck and Palm Springs and reduce already permitted groundwater withdrawals to match the amount of water that will be safely available.

In 2015, Central Florida’s population used approximately 635 million gallons per day. The area’s population is projected to reach approximately 4.4 million by 2040, which is a 49 percent increase from 2015. More people mean more water needs. But one of the core missions of Florida’s water management districts is to protect our water resources and aquatic ecosystems while assuring a sustainable water supply.

We cannot allow water withdrawals to harm the natural assets that draw people to Florida in the first place. We owe ourselves and future generations a state with all the natural wonders that make it special — and the water it takes to do that.

The Friends of the Wekiva River recommend the following actions to protect the water resources of the Wekiva Basin:

· The draft RWSP should be revised to reduce groundwater withdrawals in and around the Wekiva Basin so that Palm and Starbuck Springs will meet their currently adopted MFLs. Alternatively, the RWSP should demonstrate how proposed alternative water supply projects in the Wekiva Basin will reduce groundwater withdrawals that are causing Palm and Starbuck Springs to fall below their currently adopted MFLs.

· The RWSP should give top priority to conserving water supplies within Central Florida. The water management districts should require more aggressive water conservation efforts by local utilities, agriculture, commercial enterprises, and landscape/recreation sites. Local governments must adopt more stringent limits on irrigation of existing lawns and drastically restrict the amount of grass lawns in new developments.

· To reduce existing and projected water demand, the water management districts should impose a water use fee per gallon for water withdrawn from our aquifers, streams, and lakes. Currently, there is no such fee. Utilities, businesses and agriculture get water for free after paying a fee for a permit. Utilities charge customers for water that is treated.

· The RWSP should require the water management districts to modify existing water use permits so that the Floridan Aquifer’s sustainable yield of 760 million gallons per day will not be exceeded under the permits that have already been issued.

· The St Johns River Water Management District must adopt Prevention and Recovery Plans for Palm and Starbuck Springs in conjunction with adoption of the 2020 CFWI RWSP. Prevention plans must be developed as soon as possible for the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs to prevent them from falling below their currently adopted MFLs before 2027.

The Wekiva River Needs its Water — Managers to Set Minimum Flow and Level

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The Wekiva River Needs its Water — Managers to Set Minimum Flow and Level

How much water does the Wekiva River need to remain healthy? Water managers are trying to figure that out.

Minimum flows and levels, known as MFLs, establish the amount of water necessary to prevent significant harm to water resources or ecosystems. The levels, which are required by Florida law, are supposed to help guide and limit water withdrawals for human use in an area around a water body. If a water body’s flows and levels dip below the minimum, it can suffer low oxygen levels and poor water quality, which can harm fish and other animals.

The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) is working to revise the current MFLs for Wekiwa Springs, Rock Springs and the Wekiva River at State Road 46. For the first time, the district also will establish an MFL for the Little Wekiva River. District officials, who previously held two public meetings in 2018 to review the method for setting the flows and levels, will host public workshops later this year to review the proposed MFLs. Friends of the Wekiva River will stay on top of these developments and keep you posted.

MFLs define how often and for how long the high, intermediate and low water flows and/or levels can occur without causing significant harm to the ecosystem. Two to five MFLs are typically chosen for each water body. The MFLs are defined as the minimum infrequent high, minimum frequent high, minimum average, minimum frequent low, and minimum infrequent low flow or level. Because flows and levels of rivers, lakes, and springs are dynamic and vary naturally, the District seeks to capture and protect high, low, and average conditions by setting multiple MFLs for each priority* water body. The SJRWMD uses the most constraining MFL for determining the amount of water that can be withdrawn safely.

If the SJRWMD determines that a water body is projected not to meet its adopted MFL, a Prevention and Recovery Plan will be developed that includes strategies for water withdrawals to be maintained at or below sustainable limits through conservation and regulatory measures. Impacts from water withdrawals can also be mitigated through water supply development projects — such as reclaimed water, aquifer recharge and alternative water supply sources.

Since the program began in 1990, MFLs have been established for 101 lakes, six rivers, seven wetlands and 10 springs within the 18-county area managed by the SJRWMD. The current MFLs for the Wekiva Basin, which were adopted into the Florida Administrative Code Chapter 40C-8.031. More

information about the SJRWMD’s MFL program is available at: https://www.sjrwmd.com/minimumflowsandlevels/wekiva-basin/

*What’s a Priority Water Body?

Water Bodies are included on the SJRWMD Priority List if they are considered waters of importance to the state or region. The list also includes waters that are experiencing or are reasonably expected to experience adverse impacts. Development of MFLs for water bodies on the Priority List take precedence over water bodies not listed.