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SRWMD Chief Straight Up With Columbia County Residents & Water Experts

   Noah Valenstein

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night's meeting of the Columbia County 5 saw the new Suwannee River Water Management Executive Director, Noah Valenstein, introduce himself to the County. In spite of a few glitches by Chairman Nash, all the questions brought to the meeting by the public were answered by Mr. Valenstein, who demonstrated he wasn't afraid to answer questions and showed a command of the issues facing the Water Management District.

Off to a Rocky Start

The County did not have 3x5 cards available for the public to write down their questions, nor was anyone available from the County to hand them out as folks walked in. Before the meeting was gaveled to order, Chairman Nash did not ask the public to write down their questions on the cards, which were also not available with the clerk in the meeting room before the meeting.

The first two questioners were confused about the order and process of the meeting. Ultimately, Chairman Nash allowed questions from the audience or from the podium.

While confusion is typical lately for the County 5, no one lost an opportunity to have their questions answered.

Our Santa Fe River: Concerns About the Falling Creek Project

                        file photo

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson from Our Santa Fe River mentioned she was confused about the order of the meeting. Then she got down to business. "I'm a little concerned about the Falling Creek Project. I understand that Noah is going to address this."

Ms. Malwitz-Jipson said she has concerns about pipelines anywhere in the District. "I don't think pipelines are ever a good idea."

Jim Tatum, also of Our Santa Fe River, began, "I'm the historian for Our Santa Fe River. I'm not sure if this is the appropriate time... Regarding the Falling Creek Project: Will the stored water ultimately be sent to Jacksonville for consumption? Why is the St. Johns Water Management District involved in this? Why don't we issue fewer permits and save $48 million?"

Executive Director Valenstein

Executive Director Valenstein, on a District-wide tour to introduce himself, began by saying that he is available at the district and "folks can call anytime."

He said he is from Gainesville, "surrounded by the resources that make this district so special... I graduated with honors from the University of Florida with a degree in environmental policy... graduated from FSU with a law degree -- focusing on environmental law... I've worked with the Florida House and Florida Senate, department of environmental protection, and most recently with Gov. Scott advising on environmental policy."

"This area has the most amazing natural resources in the state of Florida."

"As Executive Director, my focus is going to be partnering with our communities to protect these resources. There is nothing that we can do that doesn't start with a good partnership."

"We're committed to being a good partner and look forward to working with you."

He continued, saying that he was happy to answer questions.

Mr. Valenstein addresses Falling Creek

"Jim mentioned the falling Creek Project. Identified in 2012, the project has been before the North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership. The idea:  If there are peak flood events on the Suwannee River where all that water is not able to flood the banks naturally, to augment the recharge through other natural systems, the idea was to pipe a limited amount of water over to Falling Creek and augment the natural recharge through that natural system helping the aquifer here in the area."

He explained that "the water is not destined to Jacksonville but to recharge the system here."

He continued, "Why is the St. Johns River Water Management District involved? They are not involved in the project."

Amendment 1

Commissioner Nash was still having a little difficulty with the process and your reporter asked Mr. Valenstein this question: "The residents of Florida approved Amendment 1 overwhelmingly, to set aside money to purchase land in perpetuity for the people of Florida. What are your feelings on that and do you think that the state should set aside that land in perpetuity and use that money to purchase the land?"

The Executive Director answered, "It was the water and land constitutional amendment. It's limited specifically to land acquisition. The district does have a land acquisition program. We're actively looking for lands to purchase and benefit resource protection in the area."

The Chicken-Collision

Commissioner Nash said, "I have one more. The impact waste from CAFO's on water quality."

Mr. Valenstein responded, "I assume this is getting at the recent chicken farm. If there is a threshold for waste management the Department of Environmental Protection would permit that. In this instance where it was dry composted, being taken off site -- in this instance we're looking forward to a new poultry BMP (best management practices) and those owners would follow the best management practice for nutrient management."

John Joplin, president of the Ichetucknee Alliance, asked his question from the audience: "Given the present state of the Ichetucknee and its springs the Water Management District has recognized it being below the level it needs to be, to be sustained as a healthy springs system. I'm a little bit perplexed as to why the Water Management District would be continuing to issue new consumptive use permits that it knows draws that level in those springs down even further?"

Mr. Valenstein responded, "It's not an either or scenario." He explained that what's going on now is that permits won't be issued unless they don't show an impact. "There in an investment in water conservation."

In response to a question from an unidentified person in the audience, who was concerned about receiving letters from pipeline companies, Mr. Valenstein explained that the Falling Creek Project is in the conceptual stage and that the Water Management District has not been sending letters regarding the acquisition of property for any pipeline.

Ex. Director Valenstein didn't run out. He stayed for the entire meeting and made himself available after the meeting concluded.


Despite the fumbling by the County, Noah Valenstein's appearance at the County 5 was a success.

He was calm, answered questions without the all too common bureaucratic run-around, (with the exception of the Amendment I issue) and seemed to have a handle on all the issues he addressed.

He also demonstrated common sense. Sitting unannounced with him in the audience was long time SRWMD's Carlos Herd, the former interim director of the District, who it has been said, knows the District inside and out and can answer any question regarding the District. Mr. Herd was not heard.

Mr. Valenstein seems to be up to speed.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On Feb. 8, 2016, Harriet Jones of Williston wrote:

The director discussed continuing consumptive use permits despite falling minimum flow levels for our rivers. Issuing, then waiting to see if the permit effects flow levels is not good practice. We need to get the EPA to enforce real Minimum Flow Levels. When the state of Florida will not protect the citizens, we need to look elsewhere, just as we did in the '60s for civil rights. This is a health issue also and that is a civil rights issue.


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