Image from Folio Weekly Oct 2, 2007 issue

The St. Johns River Water Supply Impact Study (WSIS) final report was recently released by the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD). The 4-year, multimillion dollar study was initiated by the SJRWMD after legitimate concerns were raised by St. Johns Riverkeeper and the public regarding plans to withdraw up to 155 million gallons of water a day (mgd) from the St. Johns River and nearly 100 million gallons a day from the Ocklawaha River.

In 2008, St. Johns Riverkeeper, St. Johns County, and the City of Jacksonville legally challenged the proposed Seminole County Yankee Lake permit to remove an average of 5.5 million gallons of water a day from the St. Johns River.  Although the permit was eventually approved by the SJRWMD, widespread opposition to withdrawals from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha served as a catalyst for the study.  See a list at the bottom of this post of the numerous governments and organizations that signed resolutions opposing withdrawals.

We commend the SJRWMD for conducting the study and are pleased that an independent peer review was undertaken by a respected group of outside experts, the National Research Council (NRC). Scientists and policymakers are now more knowledgeable about the St. Johns River and have a better understanding of this complex aquatic system. The study will be a helpful tool for future planning efforts.

However, the study does not provide a green light for withdrawals. The study has significant shortcomings, emphasizing the need for further research and analysis and the need to focus on a much safer and cost-effective alternative, water conservation.

We must not allow the study to divert our attention away from what should be our first priority – using our current water supply sources as prudently and efficiently as possible. Until we have sufficiently exhausted all of the viable conservation and reuse options that are readily available to us, we should not focus on the pursuit of new supply sources, especially our St. Johns River.

Here are some of the concerns and study limitations that were identified in the peer review by the National Research Council:

  • "In conducting the WSIS, District scientists found that the lack of basic data (e.g., certain kinds of benthos and fish information) and the inadequacy of basic analytical tools (e.g., on wetland hydrology and biogeochemical processes) limited what they were able to achieve and conclude.”
  • "…data needed to understand surface water–groundwater interactions and for the environmental impact analyses were not as readily available. In some cases data were very limited…. the lack of data impeded the progress of some workgroups and led to uncertainties about some of the WSIS conclusions."
  • "…the relatively short period (ten years) of the rainfall record used for the hydraulic and hydrodynamic modeling and the assumption that it will apply to future climatic conditions is a concern.”
  • “…the workgroups did not appear to consider the possibility of back-to-back extreme events in their analyses, e.g., two or three years of extreme drought in a row, which the Committee considers to be reasonably likely future situations."
  • "The Committee continues to be somewhat concerned with the basis for the final conclusion that water withdrawals of the magnitude considered in the WSIS will not have many deleterious ecological effects. In large part, this conclusion was based on the model findings that increased flows from the upper basin projects and from changes in land use (increases in impervious urban/suburban areas) largely compensated for the impacts of water withdrawals on water flows and levels….The generally poor quality of surface runoff from such land uses is well known."
  • “…runoff resulting from increases in urban/suburban land area in the basin was assumed to affect watershed hydrology only….The modeling conducted by the District did not have a water quality component, and the District considered the potential ecological effects of significant increases in degraded stormwater runoff, as well as changes in the frequency distribution of stream flows in urbanized areas, to be outside the scope of the WSIS."
  • "Although the District included water withdrawals from both the main channel of the St. Johns River and from the Ocklawaha River in its withdrawal scenarios, the WSIS focused only on potential effects of the withdrawals on the hydrology and ecology of the St. Johns River (and associated riparian wetlands). The Committee expressed concern from the outset of this study about the exclusion from the WSIS of potential effects of withdrawals on the Ocklawaha River (NRC, 2009)."
  • "Uncertainties about future conditions over which the District has no control (e.g., climate change, sea level rise, land use) also lead to concerns about the reliability of the conclusions."
  • " If there is an extended drought in the future, when increased water supply demands have led to surface withdrawals, water suppliers might not be able to withdraw water from the river for months or even years on end. It is not obvious that this would be socially acceptable."

Click here to read the comments submitted by St. Johns Riverkeeper to the SJRWMD regarding the Water Supply Impact Study (WSIS).

Here is a list of the organizations and governments that previously passed resolutions opposing withdrawals:
City of Neptune Beach
Jacksonville Beach
Keystone Heights
Atlantic Beach
Jacksonville Planning Commission
St. Johns County
Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board
Jacksonville Water and Sewer Expansion Authority
Jacksonville Waterways Commission
Town of Hastings
Town of Callahan
Nassau County
Clay County
Duval County Soil and Water Conservation District
Bradford County Legislative Delegation
Seminole County Soil and Water Conservation District

St. Johns Riverkeeper
Shrimp Producers Association
Putnam County Environmental Council
Northeast Florida Sierra Club
Clay Action Network
Turtle Coast Sierra Club
Jacksonville Civic Council, Inc.
Central Florida Sierra Club
Polk Sierra Club
Suwannee-St. Johns Sierra Club
Florida Chapter Sierra Club
William Bartram Scenic & Historic Highway Corridor Management Council
NW St. Johns County Community Coalition
Beaches Watch
St. Johns County Roundtable
Greater Arlington & Beaches CPAC
South Anastasia Community Association
Environmental Youth Council
Save Our Lakes
Greater Arlington Civic Council
Mandarin Community Club
Duval County Democratic Executive Committee
Santa Fe Lake Dwellers
Northeast Florida Association of Realtors
Clay County Chamber of Commerce
Florida Lure Anglers
Southside Business Men’s Club
Democratic Women’s Information Network
Gulf Restoration Network
Downtown Council of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce
West Volusia Audubon
Late Bloomers Garden Club
Friends of Wekiva River