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Water Wars - Columbia County FL: Tri County Water Powwow brings out a crowd and sheds light on the issues

Columbia County Florida's homeless County Commission played to a packed house at the School District Administration auditorium Tuesday night as Columbia County called three of the 15 counties represented by the Suwannee River Water Management District together. These three counties, Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee are the three North Central Florida counties which were directly impacted by the May 10, 2011 decision of the Saint Johns River Water Management District to issue a to permit to JEA, the Jacksonville municipal electric, water and sewer utility. This permit allows them to withdraw up to 155 million gallons a day from the aquifer which they share with the SRWMD.

The meeting kicked off with Columbia County's County Commission Chairman Jody DuPree reading a prepared statement. He told the gathering that the water management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection "are failing down in their responsibilities to protect our waters and ecosystems."

Commissioner DuPree explained that he learned of the permit granted to JEA by accident and he expected that the water management district would have informed him and the Board of County Commissioners of the impending actions by the St. Johns River Water Management District.

He said, "I am saddened that the district never approached Columbia County Board of County Commissioners and advised us of the danger that the rivers, ecosystems and natural resources faced due to the actions of the St. Johns Water Management District and DEP... It is my hope that after tonight the small counties represented here along with the other counties affected by this action will rise up and be heard."

Columbia County's longtime County Manager Dale Williams introduced the program and the evening's first presenter, Gregg W. Jones of Cardno Entrix. Mr. Jones is a vice president of Cardno Entrix and a professional geologist. Cardno Entrix is a real company and is a worldwide expert in the field of environmental and natural resource management.

Mr. Jones told the Observer that he grew up in Fort Lauderdale and spent the last 25 years in Tampa. His presentation was jam packed with, charts, photos, graphs and enough clear and concise information to make everyone who saw the presentation understand that there aren't any easy answers to the groundwater issues facing the region.

Mr. Jones's presentations are available here:
Audio - 28minutes (4.2meg)
Slide presentation (2.1meg)

Columbia County invited Mr. Jones to the meeting to make the presentation.   He told the Observer that he was not paid and he did not ask to be paid. He said, "My hearts in this." That was obvious.

After the meeting Mr. Jones made a copy of his slide presentation available to the Observer.

Issues as Columbia County sees them

County Manager Dale Williams gave an over view of the issues as Columbia County saw them, presenting the following highlights:

The St. Johns River Water Management District Issued a 20 Year Consumptive Use Permit To The Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) For Withdrawal Of Up To 155,000,000 Gallons Of Groundwater Per Day From The Floridian Aquifer.

If JEA exceeds reclaimed water standards established by the permit, groundwater allocation could increase up to 162.5 million gallons per day.

The St. Johns River Water Management District continues to ignore the size and scope of the problem; therefore, the problem not only continues but it does so exponentially.

Both Representative Porter and Senator Dean have proposed legislation in Tallahassee.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, St. Johns River Water Management District and Suwannee River Water Management District have entered into an interlocal agreement for the purpose of promoting resource protection and equitable treatment of water users. 

Columbia County's legal perspective

Next, County Manager Williams introduced Attorney Sidney F. Ansbacher to give an overview of the legal options. Mr. Ansbacher gave his legal take on various issues from the legal to the geological.

Mr. Ansbacher was well spoken and smooth. However, both he and Columbia County forgot to mention that Mr. Asbacher was paid by Columbia County to make his presentation. That Mr. Ansbacher represented the County Manager's best friend in a mitigation bank credit issue that was before the Suwannee River Water Management District, which was not exactly cordial, and Columbia County.

Columbia County wrap up

At the conclusion of Mr. Ansbacher's presentation, CM Williams summed up the County's position:

1)   The giant “sucking” sound we hear is the water beneath us traveling toward the east and northeast.

2)   The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Water Management Districts are either incapable or unwilling to address the problem.

3)   Decisions are continuing to be made that only enhance the problem.

4)   Limited steps have been taken to date to address the problem.

5)   An immediate legal remedy is not probable. Enhanced science and public information are “musts”.

Epilogue

After the public comment portion of the meeting, Columbia County Commissioner Rusty DePratter asked, "If we can show data in three years is there a possibility of fighting the permit at that time?"

Geologist Jones answered, "Prior to 2010 too much groundwater has already been permitted, and so it's not just going after the JEA issue. It's finding out who is doing that excess ground water pumping and if it's in St. Johns, going to Saint Johns and saying you over permitted."

In Part II, Suwannee River Water Management District Executive Director, David Still, speaks with the Observer before the meeting. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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