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Columbia County Observer

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Water Wars - Columbia County FL: County Chairman removes Water Management District Directors from agenda

This past Tuesday evening the hundreds of people that traveled from as far away as Chiefland, Jacksonville and Keystone Heights and places in-between to come to Lake City for the tri county water powwow were denied the opportunity to hear the Executive Director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, David Still, and the Saint Johns Water Management District make presentations regarding the recent controversial water permit to JEA.

At the conclusion of Tuesday night's meeting the Observer asked Columbia County's County Manager Dale Williams why the Suwannee River Water Management District and the Saint Johns Water Management District were left off the evening's agenda.

County Manager Dale Williams didn't pull any punches, "Because I was specifically told to leave them off because they are considered to be the problem, not the solution. In the original agenda we had them on, but I was told to leave them off."

The Observer:  Who made that decision? The Board didn't make that decision.

County Manager Williams:  The person who organized the agenda did.

That person was County Commission Chairman, Jody DuPree, who also has the final right of approval of all agendas coming before the County Commission.

A conversation with SRWMD Exec Director David Still

At 11:00 am on Tuesday morning, David Still spoke with your reporter, who was not aware that Mr. Still had been removed from the evening's agenda. Mr. Still did not mention it.

Director Still told the Observer, "You're starting to see statewide water issues that are regional in nature that should be solved by the state of Florida and not by regional entities that are particularly susceptible to political pressure."

The Observer:  It appears that there are folks out there that want the Suwannee River Water Management District to sue the St. Johns Water Management District.

Director Still:  The way the law is written the clock begins to tick as soon as a permit is issued by the issuing water management District. There are 21 days in which to appeal the decision of the district if you are an interested party.

The Observer:  David Still has been talking about water issues a lot longer than Columbia County has been talking about them and no one paid attention. Now that the tri county area's aquifer is being pumped without limit people are taking notice.

Mr. Still:  Until the big utilities understand that folks impacted by decisions made by the water management districts in concert with the utilities are going to stand up, speak out, and fight for their water rights to stop unlimited and unregulated pumping from the aquifer nothing is going to change.

"Hopefully folks are beginning to understand what I have been speaking about for all these years, if you don't pay attention to your water -- somebody is going to take it."

Facts:  On May 10, 2011 the St. Johns Water Management District issued the permit to JEA.  Google JEA Water Permit and it can clearly be seen that there were numerous articles regarding the permit. Anyone that was interested could have found out what was going on. Many did attend the hearing and protest the permit.

On September 13th of this year the Suwannee River Water Management District and the St. Johns Water Management District entered into an inter local agreement to share data and work together, share and review permits.

Director Still:  "These are things the two agencies should have been doing a long time ago in regards to huge water permits. We are doing them now."

"We share the same aquifer. Florida state law did a really good job in discussing and protecting surface waters, but it doesn't do a good job on groundwater protection and this issue is an issue about groundwater."

Director Still:  55% of our surface watershed is in Georgia. All the water we get in Suwannee comes out of Georgia. It originates in Georgia, but we share this aquifer with St. Johns.

"Our staff knew that the St. Johns Water District was going to issue JEA the permit. They took the attitude that we are bigger then you and you can't tell us what to do. I called the assistant executive director before the district approved the JEA permit and asked them if they could delay the action until we could get some issues resolved -- they flat told me, no."

Observer: It appears that no matter what you did or said, the St. Johns Water Management District was going to move forward and approve the permit?

Director Still:  That's right. They were going to move forward regardless.

Observer:  What can we do or the water management district do as we move forward?

Director Still:  We will continue to work to get this thing turned around and get JEA to pump less water and get the utilities in North Florida to begin looking at alternative sources.

Observer:     Could JEA suck the water out of the river to supply their 160 million gallons a day?

Director Still:  Absolutely and it wouldn't be a drop in the bucket to that river. The result would be no impact on the groundwater supply for any of us in the region.

Observer:  So why can't they do that?

Director Still:  Because it probably costs them twice as much to treat it as it does to pump it out of the ground. They don't want to spend the money and they don't want their rate payers to spend the money.

The Solution

Observer:  So what is your solution?

Director Still:  Let's elevate this to a state wide issue. If these are state wide resources we are trying to protect then somebody has to decide if it isn't going to be the rate payers, who is going to pay for it? It may just have to be the state.

Epilogue

It is incredible to believe that the public was denied the opportunity to listen to the folks that run the water managements districts. They were at the meeting.

There are not going to be simple solutions to the problems facing Florida's water management districts.

Shutting them out of the conversation the way Columbia County did on Tuesday night is clearly not a step in the right direction.

 

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

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