Water managers stick to forecasts on area supplies

Published: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 1:32 a.m.

Despite mild protest from Gainesville Regional Utilities, the St. Johns River Water Management District is sticking to its projections that parts of eastern Alachua County could see widespread ecological damage if current rates of groundwater removal continue unchecked.

"We do believe that we're using the best model available to us at this point," said Beth Wilder, a St. Johns project manager, referring to the district's confidence in its long-term forecast.

The listing, which appears headed for inclusion in the district's 2025 water supply assessment expected to be completed in April, could mean that GRU may have to adjust its pumping strategy to meet the demands of future city residents, including looking for groundwater in the Suwannee River Water Management District, county and utility officials said.

But the methods used to generate the dire forecast haven't gone without scrutiny.

In September, the Water Management District identified parts of Alachua County as a "water resource caution area," indicating for the first time that groundwater removal over the next 20 years could result in significant harm to area lakes, wetlands and streams.

In other words, the classification, determined by district water managers based largely on anticipated GRU pumping rates, meant "anticipated sources of water and conservation efforts are not adequate to meet projected needs through 2025," said Barbara Vergara, director of the district's division of water supply management.

Shortly after the district's findings were made public, GRU submitted a letter to St. Johns questioning the science of the model used to project the groundwater declines, saying that the methods appeared "inconsistent with projections from previous modeling performed."

David Richardson, the utility's system planning director, said Thursday that GRU was still working with St. Johns officials to understand the science behind the cautionary listing, adding "there's a possibility" that the classification could be rescinded.

"GRU wants to make sure the models that are assessing environmental impacts are as accurate as possible so we can make the best decisions as possible," Richardson said.

A joint city-county water policy committee meeting was scheduled for Thursday night to discuss the science behind the district's study.

But even before the meeting, district officials appeared poised to stand firm in its water use caution area projection.

"The reason that we had this public comment period was so that people could question the science and ask whatever they wanted," said Teresa Monson, a spokeswoman for the St. Johns district. "And we feel like that has occurred. We've gotten a lot of good responses. It's given us a chance to review the data."f-t f-z

Chris Bird, director of the county's Environmental Protection Department, said in an e-mail response to questions that the district was correct in sounding the water use alarm.

"EPD continues to support SJRWMD's assessment and their water caution designations," Bird said. "While groundwater modeling is always an approximation of the truth, when it comes to these types of decisions about our precious water resources, we believe it is much better to err on the side of caution."

Greg Bruno can be reached at (352) 374-5026 or

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