Paul Still: Draining wetlands killing lakes
Published: Monday, January 7, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.
The Dec. 25 Sun article “Districts eye ways to replenish aquifer” illustrates that the Suwannee River Water Management District has failed to identify the causes of lower lake levels, and reduced flows in springs and rivers. Unfortunately the Suwannee district also has convinced others that groundwater withdrawals are the problem.
This misdiagnoses can not only be very costly but it will also result in delays in developing projects that could have a positive impact on spring and river flows. Lake levels are determined for the most part by rain, which we cannot control.
It is like a person going to the doctor with a head cold and a headache and the doctor prescribes a decongestant but fails to see the headache is being caused by a brain tumor. For our aquifer system the cold is groundwater withdrawals and the brain tumor is the loss of aquifer recharge caused by over a century of draining wetlands in northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.
If you look at the declines in groundwater levels over time and throughout our area it is pretty clear that withdrawals in the metropolitan parts of northeast Florida in the St. Johns district are not the cause of lower lake and aquifer levels, and reduced flow of rivers and springs in the Suwannee district.
It was much easier for the Suwannee district to blame JEA than to admit it had failed to take action to address declining groundwater levels that have been occurring even before the water management districts were formed.
The Suwannee district has said the migration of the groundwater flow divide line to the southwest illustrates the impacts of withdrawals in the St. Johns district. This groundwater flow divide is shown as a line on the map where groundwater either flows toward the Suwannee district or the St. Johns district. Careful evaluation of groundwater well levels show this divide is an artifact created by the mapping methods used and does not reflect actual conditions.
If you focus on withdrawals instead of recharge, groundwater levels will continue to decline. If you focus on the wrong type of recharge projects you also will not solve the problem. The recharge options proposed in the $265,000 ATKINS study are all so costly and provide such limited benefits they should never be funded or implemented.
The simplest and most cost effective way to increase recharge is to install ditch plugs in the dug drainage ditches that were installed to drain wetlands. These ditch pugs hold water in existing wetlands long enough so the water can be moved down and recharge our aquifers. This is a technique the Suwannee district has used in Mallory Swamp but is also applicable for large areas of northeast Florida.
We often hear that the water management districts should stop issuing Consumptive Use Permits. The reality is they can't stop issuing permits. The modeling tools they have are so insensitive that it is not possible to demonstrate harm to wetlands, lakes, rivers, springs or the aquifers. The water management districts are in the process of developing yet another model but it will also not be sensitive enough to deny a permit because of local impacts caused by the proposed withdrawal.
What is needed is a major revision in the Suwannee district's approach to our water resources and maybe a second opinion that will discover the brain tumor.
Paul Still lives in Starke.
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