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Surprise Decision, But Threat Remains

Surprise Decision, But Threat Remains credit: SJRWMD

Press Release - July 17, 2014

On Tuesday, July 15, 2014, the St. Johns River Water Management (SJRWMD) staff recommended denial of a consumptive use permit (CUP) modification request by Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch) to pump an additional 1.12 million gallons of water a day (mgd) from the aquifer for its massive cattle operation in Marion County. St. Johns Riverkeeper, Sierra Club Florida, Florida Defenders of the Environment and concerned citizens Karen Ahlers and Jeri Baldwin praised the decision by the SJRWMD, due to the additional damage that the modification would have caused to area waterways, including Silver Springs.

However, the groups remain opposed to the issuance of an environmental resource permit (ERP) and an existing version of the CUP for 1.46 mgd that the District has recommended for approval and are moving forward with their legal challenge.

Karen Ahlers, Executive Director of Florida Defenders of the Environment says, “Kudos to SJRWMD for standing by the science and recommending denial of this permit modification. The additional water requested by Sleepy Creek Lands would have made a bad permit that much worse for Outstanding Florida Waters that are already impaired and degraded.”

“We commend the recommendation by District staff to deny Sleepy Creek’s attempt to modify its permit for an additional 1.12 million gallons of water a day,” continues Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper. “Unfortunately, the District still supports this damaging permit, so our legal challenge continues.”

“The decision by District staff is certainly encouraging and we urge the Governing Board to follow the staff recommendation and deny this request for more water. However, this massive cattle operation still remains a serious threat to the health of Silver Springs, Salt Springs, Silver River, the Ocklawaha, the St. Johns, and our aquifer,” declares Linda Bremer of Sierra Club Florida.

On June 2, 2014, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Sierra Club Florida, and concerned citizens Karen Ahlers and Jeri Baldwin filed a petition for an administrative hearing to challenge the permits sought by Sleepy Creek Lands. Since that time, Florida Defenders of the Environment has intervened in the case. An administrative hearing has been scheduled for August 25-29 to receive evidence and hear arguments from both sides.

The conservation groups and concerned citizens are challenging SJRWMD staff’s approval of the Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) and their recommendation for approval of the Consumptive Use Permit (CUP) due to concerns about the significant environmental damage that would result from the Sleepy Creek Lands project.

This massive cattle operation is located in the watershed of the Silver and Ocklawaha Rivers and the springshed of Silver and Salt Springs. In the first of three phases of a 30,000 acre beef operation, Sleepy Creek Lands is seeking a permit to withdraw 1.46 mgd from an already over-tapped aquifer. SJRWMD staff recommended approval of this request, but recently recommended denial for a permit modification requesting an additional 1.12 mgd.

According to the petition, Sleepy Creek failed to provide reasonable assurance that water quantity and quality in the Floridan aquifer, rivers, and springs would not be significantly impacted from its groundwater pumping and the manure from 9,500 head of cattle and the use of large quantities of fertilizer. The petitioners are also questioning the validity and accuracy of the modeling upon which the challenged permits are based.

Unfortunately, Silver Springs and the Silver River, which flows through the Ocklawaha into the St. Johns River, are already under severe stress with flows in significant decline and nitrate levels exceeding the State of Florida’s pollution limits. In 2012, the State mandated a 79% reduction from existing nitrate loading, in order to restore the health of these iconic waterways.

“Silver Springs and the Silver River are already in serious decline,” said Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper. “How could we possibly allow such an intensive project that will only make the existing pollution and flow problems worse and restoration efforts more expensive and difficult for us to achieve? It defies logic and is certainly not in the public’s best interest.”

Linda Bremer of Sierra Club Florida added, “It’s unfortunate that we must resort to legal action to hold our state agencies accountable and protect these iconic waterways. However, we are committed to making sure that our aquifer is not further exploited, and more harmful pollution is not permitted. Our springs and rivers belong to all the citizens of Florida and are much too valuable to sacrifice for the fortunes of a few.”

“Impacts to the Ocklawaha River from groundwater contamination and surface water runoff have been all but ignored,” said Karen Ahlers, a private citizen and long-time advocate for Florida’s waters. “The ranch was historically used to grow pine trees and provided significant habitat for wildlife. It has now been denuded to make way for irrigated pasture to support 9,500 head of cattle. The pollution runoff from this site will be horrific.”  

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