Adena Springs' first public meeting is Wednesday


Published: Thursday, August 16, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 16, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.

Adena Springs Ranch will host its first public meeting next week to explain to residents its 13.3-million-gallons-per-day water application for a 30,000-head cattle operation in the Fort McCoy area.

Facts

If you go

What: Adena Springs Ranch hosts public meeting to discuss its permit request to withdraw as much as 13.3 million gallons of water per day for it's future cattle operation.

When: Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Church at the Springs, 5424 SE 58th Ave., Ocala

Adena executives held an invitation-only meeting last month, limiting attendees to area landowners and other business people. Wednesday's meeting will be open to the general public and will include people explaining the application and address "misinformation on (Silver) Springs and River … and make sure people understand the (minimal) effect on … the environment," said Honey Rand, who oversees Adena's environmental media issues. The public will be allowed to ask questions.

Adena Springs Ranch is owned by billionaire Frank Stronach, who founded and formerly led an international car-parts manufacturing company.

During the past few years, Stronach purchased at least 25,000 acres in Marion County and another 30,000 acres in Levy County.

Stronach's plan is to raise as many as 30,000 head of cattle solely on grass, and he says he needs the water for irrigation. The process is different from most Florida ranches, which typically ship their young cows out of Florida to be fed grain to fatten. The Stronach project also includes a meat processing and packaging plant.

Stronach's engineers say that the ranch's 135 wells would have negligible effect on the area aquifer, even if it uses the maximum 13.3 mgd allotted.

Stronach's permit request will be decided by the St. Johns River Water Management District, which is currently reviewing the application.

The amount Stronach is requesting surpasses the amount of water the entire city of Ocala is allowed to withdraw from the ground.

Bob Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, said that the additional water withdrawal would have a devastating effect on Silver Springs and the Silver River, which he says have already seen more than a 30 percent flow decline during the past 10 years because of pumping.

Even during the rainy season, Knight predicts the Adena withdrawal would diminish the spring's flow by about 3 percent on its own. Knight said Adena could make due with 2 million gallons per day instead of 13.3 million gallons.

Knight also has complained that Adena is making its predictions on the aquifer using models and that models have often been inaccurate by many factors. He said Adena's models also only predict the ranch's effect on the aquifer, not the spring and river, and also don't include potential error predictions.

Knight is also on the board of the Silver Springs Alliance, an organization dedicated to protecting the spring and river. He is encouraging the organization's members to attend Adena's meeting.

Knight is also calling for more study on how the cattle's manure will impact unwanted nutrients in the spring and river.

Knight said there is a potential legal battle brewing over the permit.

He predicts Stronach's lawyers are ready to file suit against the St. Johns district if the ranch doesn't get the water it wants.

"That's why the (water) district is so uncomfortable right now," Knight said. "They're between a rock and a hard place (deciding the permit) … His lawyers are there for a reason."

William Dunn, a Gainesville environmental scientist hired by the ranch to help in its water application, has said Silver Springs' decline since 2000 has not been because of overpumping, but possibly because of some "cataclysmic" event that has redirected water away from the spring.

Dunn said this theory, which is being reviewed by the St. Johns Water Management District, explains the spring's decline.

Rand said Stronach is determined to protect the environment and water resources in the area and to be a good neighbor.

Dunn has insisted that the ranch likely won't need the full 13.3 million gallons to irrigate grass to feed its cows. He said even if the full amount were withdrawn, the depth of the aquifer outside the ranch area would decrease only about 1.25 inches and about three-quarters of an inch in the Silver Spring area.

Dunn said the limerock that makes up the vast underground maze under the spring shed is always changing and susceptible to "time, chemistry and erosion," and that it could have rerouted water elsewhere.

Contact Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@starbanner.com or 867-4157.

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