Photo credit: DEP
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is in the process of overhauling the way that consumptive use permits (CUPs) are issued by the water management districts. CUPs are required by users that withdraw large quantities of water (100,000 gallons or more a day) from groundwater or surface water. This rulemaking effort, referred to as CUPcon, has been undertaken to supposedly streamline the permitting of CUPs and make the process more consisent and efficient. You can learn more about CUPcon by visiting the DEP's website.
St. Johns Riverkeeper recently submitted a petition, challenging some of the proposed rules. Click here to read the petition of our challenge to the proposed rules 62-40.210(18) which defines "impact offset" and to 62-40.416(7) which presumes that supplementation of reclaimed water systems is always beneficial and mandates the approval of supplementation permits.
The Administrative Hearing is scheduled for March 26-27 in Tallahassee.
Supplementation of a reclaimed water system means to add water from another source to the reclaimed water supply. As you may recall, St. Johns Riverkeeper previously challenged a permit by Seminole County and the Yankee Lake WastewaterTreatment Facility to withdraw up to 5.5 million gallons of water a day from the St. Johns River to supplement reclaimed water that would be used for irrigation purposes.
By mandating supplementation or surface water withdrawal permits gives unwarranted encouragement to utilities to use less efficient reuse systems while discouraging less risky and more cost-effective conservation measures. On its face, this proposed mandate downgrades the conservation value and the stated benefits of reuse. Removing millions of gallons a day of surface waters for supplementation from the flow of Florida's rivers, lakes and streams will worsen existing pollution problems, increase salinity levels, and adversely impact the fisheries, wildlife, and submerged vegetation in and along the water bodies.
We also previously submitted comments expressing our concerns and recommendations. Here is an excerpt from our comment letter:
St. Johns Riverkeeper has serious concerns about the potential for environmental safeguards to be weakened or eliminated and flexibility and oversight diminished in the effort to make the permitting process more consistent and streamlined.
We entrust our state agencies to represent our collective best interests by managing and allocating our waters in a manner that ensures the protection and sustainable use of these precious resources. Through the permitting process, we, the citizens of Florida, grant permit holders the opportunity to use our water with the expectation that they will use it as prudently and efficiently as possible. Maintaining this trust and fulfilling this obligation should always be the first priority of our elected officials and regulatory officials. Water is too precious, too valuable, and too limited to risk jeopardizing its health or its availability for current and future generations. Our quality of life, environment, and our economy are much more vulnerable from insufficient protections for our water resources than from a few inconsistencies in the permitting process.
Permit applicants obviously want to deal with a fair, consistent, and efficient permitting and regulatory system, and rightfully so. They want to know what is expected of them when seeking permission to use and potentially impact the natural resources, or public goods, that belong to us, the citizens of Florida.
However, providing certainty to the citizens that our water resources are being adequately protected should be the most critical concern, focus, and priority of any effort to reform the process. Businesses, utilities, and agricultural interests should be certain that rules will be applied fairly and consistently, but that it won’t happen without intense scrutiny and high hurdles. We must ensure that allocations do not cause harm to our water resources and meet the public interest test, and that our water is being used as responsibly and efficiently as possible. Our regulatory agencies must have adequate staff, time and flexibility to ensure that a thorough review of permit applications is conducted and sufficient mitigation or conditions are required to offset or minimize environmental impacts to the greatest extent possible. We simply can’t afford to get these decisions wrong. While we should strive to create a more consistent and efficient regulatory process, it should never come at the expense of our water resources or the rights of the citizens to whom those resources belong.
Click here to read the entire letter from St. Johns Riverkeeper.
The Florida Conservation Coalition has also submitted comments, expressing similar concerns.