Adena Ranch to slash its request for water


Ron Wycoff, left, speaks as Mark Roberts, the general manager of Adena Springs Ranch, center and Matt Baker, the construction manager of Adena Springs, right, look on during the first public meeting on Adena Springs Ranch 13.3 million gallons per day water request for its proposed 15,000 head cattle ranch in Fort McCoy at the Church @ The Springs in Ocala on Wednesday. Adena Springs announced that it would be reducing their request to 5.2 million gallons of water per day during the meeting.

Bruce Ackerman/ Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 10:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 10:27 p.m.

Adena Springs Ranch announced Wednesday that it was cutting by 60 percent the amount of water it was asking from Florida regulators for its future cattle ranch in Fort McCoy.

The announcement during an Adena-hosted public meeting at the Church of the Spring at Southeast 58th Avenue followed staunch opposition to the 25,000-acre ranch's original request of the St. Johns Water Management District for as much as 13.3 million gallons per day to irrigate the operations. That is more than the City of Ocala is allowed to withdraw for its residents.

Many environmentalists and area residents complained that the original water withdrawal of 13.3 mgd would hurt nearby Silver Springs, which is already suffering severe flow reductions at least in part because of the recent drought and existing aquifer withdrawal. They also feared that the withdrawal would dry private, residential wells outside the farm.

"We have been listening," Adena Springs Ranch manager Mark Roberts told the audience of 150 people after announcing that Adena would change its water request to 5.3 mgd.

Roberts said he and his Adena team had met with many area neighbors and concerned residents when there appeared opposition to the plan.

"We took a lot of information from these people and we listened with an open mind," Roberts said.

The best solution, he said, was to use some of the other area farms owned by Stronach and allow the cattle to stay there, which would mean less water use at Adena.

Although the new plan will mean buying more equipment for the satellite farms and building infrastructure there, "after looking at the whole picture ... the positives outweighed the negatives," Roberts said.

But the announcement still left questions unanswered about water use.

Asked by a Star-Banner reporter which satellite farms would be used and if Adena would make additional water requests for those farms, Adena lawyer Ed de la Parte said that hadn't been decided.

He said that some of the satellite farms may already have water-use permits in place. As for the other farms used under the new plans, de la Parte said they may or may not make applications in the future to meet those farms' irrigation needs. However, he said most of the reduction was due to significantly improved irrigation systems at the Adena/Fort McCoy ranch.

De la Parte said that reducing the 13.3 mgd request was to address the water needs issue at Adena, and that the water needs at other satellite farms was a separate issue.

Behind the project is Canada-based ranch owner Frank Stronach, a former international car parts billionaire and horseman.

Stronach also owns at least 30,000 acres in Levy County. The Adena ranch, and the associated meat processing plant that will be part of it, will create 150 jobs, according to Adena.

Local environmentalist Guy Marwick, who attended the meeting, said he welcomed the reduction announcement, but was still concerned about nearby Silver Springs.

"We're certainly glad to have some of the potential impacts on Silver removed, but where are they going?" he asked during a break in the meeting. "Where are these satellite farms and what kind of permits will be needed there? What spring shed are they moving to?"

In his original water application permit, Stronach told regulators that he would have as many as 30,000 head of cattle. During the Adena presentation Wednesday, Roberts said the ranch would raise about half that.

The ranch's need for the water is based on how the cattle will be raised on the farm.

Traditionally, young cows are sent to western states and fed grain for fattening. Stronach's plan is different.

His plan is to keep the cattle on his ranches where they are fed only grasses. That, however, takes far more grass than when cattle are kept on Florida farms for only a short period of time. And to keep that grass growing requires water, especially during Florida's dry months, November through May.

As for the cow manure produced on the farm, Adena said that will be spread on the land to decompose.

William Dunn, an environmental scientist who is working for Adena in its water application, said that reducing the water use to 5.3 mgd will have less impact on the spring than the 13.3 mgd would have had.

So instead of a predicted aquifer drop of 0.06 feet near Silver Springs at 13.3 mgd withdrawal, engineers now predict a drop of 0.03 feet.

Aquifer-level decline near the ranch's property line under the original application would have been between 0.1 feet and 0.2 feet. Under the new proposal, the aquifer in those areas would drop between 0.05 feet and 0.2 feet.

Matt Baker of Adena said of the pumping requests that when it rains, water won't be pumped from the ground.

"It's an insurance policy (if it doesn't rain)," he said.

Baker said that before the decision to reduce its water application, Adena considered alternative water sources, including getting used municipal water or moving water from other areas of the ranch. He said that turned out to be too expensive or impractical for now.

But most of those people who spoke at the meeting said they were still skeptical of Adena.

"Almost the whole basis (of the project) is driven by Mr. Stronach," said Ocala resident Ed Closter. "If Mr. Stronach died in a year, who would we look to to make sure you're going to do what you say you're going to do?"

Stronach is in his 70s.

Roberts answered, saying Stronach's daughter would take over the oversight of the ranch.

But Cluster said he wasn't convinced.

Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, said that Florida water districts have been too generous over the years in granting water permits.

"There's no extra water (for Adena). The state has given it all away," he said.

Knight also asked Baker how much nitrogen waste would be generated by the cows that will make its way into the aquifer and pollute it.

Baker said he didn't know.

Knight estimated the amount would be about 200 tons a year, almost half the amount that is already pouring out of Silver Springs.

Some in the audience thought the farm was a waste of water use.

"I'm kinda thinking this is foolish," said Marion County resident Robert Lee. "It's going to be our water that drives this system."

Lee said the ranch and the county's water will make Stronach an even richer man.

"This is a waste of our resources. It's not yours. It's not Mr. Stronach's," he said.

Reach Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@starbanner.com and 352-867-4157.

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