Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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In District 10 and All Around Florida, a Record of Working to Assure Clean Water for All of Us

"We must act wisely and quickly"

The Floridan Aquifer underlies a huge area of about 100,000 square miles of parts of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and all of Florida. This source provides the principal drinking water for about 22 million people. In addition, the aquifer is extensively pumped for irrigation and industry.   

Today in Florida we are using and abusing our aquifer as if there were no tomorrow, with our Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and water agencies allowing free water to all who knock at the door and uncontrolled fertilizer applications. Such abuse of the aquifer has resulted in two problems: excessive withdrawals and pollution. The former has caused major springs to dry up and a huge drop in springs and river flow, which results in ecosystem problems; the latter is an ever-increasing threat to health, habitat and our potable water source.

Our aquifer is constantly declining and rainfall replenishment is not enough to bring it up to normal levels. Consequently, it is important to not interfere with this recharge system. But alas, we humans are not known to be able to leave Mother Nature alone, nor to resist fixing something when it doesn’t need fixing. The result is usually something botched up.

Among the obstacles that we have caused to this replenishing process are the draining of wetlands and the paving for development, which prevents rainwater from soaking into the soil and, ultimately, the aquifer. Our agencies have also taken delight in straightening river courses and cleaning our river and creek channels to speed water flow, to the detriment of wetlands replenishment, by reducing or preventing overflow into surrounding lowlands.  Issuing residential building permits in flood-prone wetlands is a case in point in our region.

Half of District 10 is situated within the thinly confined and unconfined aquifer, deemed as such because the water is close to the surface and the soils allow rapid infiltration. Any pollutants spilled on the ground have a short path into our drinking water.

Other hazards to our clean drinking water are the “EPA approved” weed killers and chemical sprays applied to road ditches in this sensitive area. Fungicides and pesticides sprayed on crops in sandy soils on high recharge areas likewise head straight into our drinking water.

City municipality sludge is trucked to land application sites where hay farmers are paid to allow dumping with the intent to fertilize their crop, only to realize that they still need more fertilizer supplementation. This is sometimes done with little thought regarding possible runoff into nearby creeks and sinkholes which empty into the aquifer

One of the greatest threats to our aquifer in recent years is the proposed phosphate mine by HPS II Enterprises in Union and Bradford counties. Nearly 11,000 acres are slated for mining, some in wetlands, some straddling New River (a major tributary of the Santa Fe,) and some adjacent to the Santa Fe itself. There are threats: wastewater spills can flow into wetlands and tributaries of the Santa Fe; the aquifer could be lowered and springs dried up. This has already happened in Florida where mining takes place, such as in Hamilton, Polk and Hardee counties.

So little do we care for our future drinking water that we inject our sewage into it.  Injection wells are the brainchildren of people who are guessing about the results, but risking the future of our most basic need – pure drinking water. Water is everything and without it we have nothing.

Most of our decision-makers: city and county commissioners, state representatives and senators, do not understand the basic characteristics of our aquifer or its fragility.

Some Water Management District managers and some employees of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) do understand the situation, but are prevented by politics from taking the right decisions. Under Florida’s current leadership, from the governor on down, the environment is the loser when it is a question of industry or environment. The devastating damage to our water has been apparent this past summer and fall with green slime and red tides.

To save our most valuable resource we must act wisely and quickly.  In November, we have the opportunity to begin to turn things around.

Carefully check the backgrounds of the other candidates. While most are talking water, they have done little or nothing, nor do they understand the problems.

In District 10, candidates Brannan, Williams and Martin have no background or experience in water.

For many years, I have been working in the district and all around Florida to protect our most important natural resource: water.

I plan to continue to do so as your next Representative for the Florida House. A vote for me is a vote for our water, economy and community.

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson is a candidate for the Florida Legislature: District 10.

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