On May 24, 2017, Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early issued his Final Order, dismissing the petition by St. Johns Riverkeeper, Florida Defenders of the Environment, Silver Springs Alliance, and Alice Gardner to invalidate an emergency Minimum Flow and Level (MFL) rule for Silver Springs.   

The emergency rule was recently approved by the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) Governing Board, allowing the SJRWMD to now determine compliance with the Silver Springs MFL by assessing water elevations instead of actual flow rate.  An administrative hearing was held on May 11 in response to the legal challenge from the petitioners.  

By using minimum average water elevations, flows in Silver River could drop by as much as 34% below the average minimum flow set by the SJRWMD and still remain in compliance. This decline is equivalent to nearly 141 million gallons per day (mgd), or more than all of the freshwater used by Orlando and the rest of Orange County on a daily basis. This would allow the SRJWMD to meet the rule requirements and continue to approve more Consumptive Use Permits (CUPs) for groundwater pumping despite additional harm that would occur to Silver Springs.

For instance, the SJRWMD's Frequent High (FH) minimum flow of 828 cubic feet per second (cfs) which is necessary for a duration of 30 days every five years has not been met for even one day, let alone 30, since 2000 (see flow guage chart below).

For the last year, flows have also been well below the Minimum Level (ML) of 638 cfs that was established by the SJRWMD (see chart below).

“The flow data clearly indicates that Silver Springs and Silver River have been in serious decline for decades,” explains Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper. “By changing the rules, the District can conveniently hand out more permits, like the one for Sleepy Creek Lands, and shirk its responsibility for protecting these magical waterways.”

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