Water district has more questions for Adena Springs Ranch
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 5:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 5:26 p.m.
OCALA - Florida water regulators want more information from Adena Springs Ranch as they continue to review the farm's request to draw an annual average of 5.3 million gallons of water per day in the Fort McCoy area.
One Adena official describes the regulators' aggressive data gathering as "unprecedented," and said the tactic should cause other agriculture businesses to be concerned.
The St. Johns River Water Management District's request for additional information about the 25,000-acre plus project is only the latest in a back-and-forth volley that began in December 2011.
Environmentalists have opposed the project, expressing concern about the effect such a large water withdrawal would have on the aquifer and nearby Silver Springs.
Lawyer John Thomas, who represents some project opponents, said the latest request from the water district stems from Adena officials dragging their feet in giving regulators the information they wanted.
Thomas said the applicants play "a cat-and-mouse game" whose goal is "to submit as little information as possible."
The ranch is being developed by former Canadian-based car parts billionaire Frank Stronach. He owns about 30,000 acres in Marion County and more than 30,000 acres in Levy County. His goal is to build the cattle ranch in addition to a meat processing plant on some of that land in northeast Marion.
St. Johns' latest request focuses on specifics of potential water withdrawal and how the farm would dispose of animal waste from about 17,000 cows. The ranch has until May 11 to respond.
The ranch's average water use is proposed at 5.3 million gallons per day (mgd). But St. Johns wants to know more about potential daily peak usage, citing the ranch's application for a potential maximum daily irrigation use of 21.57 mgd.
The water district wants to know if the ranch plans to use all of its proposed 34 irrigation areas at the same time and, if so, what the impact would be on the groundwater, area springs and neighbors.
In its 16-page request for more information, the water district also focused on how the ranch would treat the waste from so many cattle.
Among several waste nutrient questions, the water agency said the ranch's "Nutrient Management Plan" didn't demonstrate that the ranch's water use wouldn't contribute to water pollution. It wants an explanation of how area springs would be protected.
The water agency also wants to know how much cattle waste would be generated in the ranch's irrigated areas and how it would be disposed of. It also seeks assurances that the waste would not seep into groundwater from those irrigated areas.
The water agency further asks how much unwanted nitrogen and phosphorus would be generated from the waste. Those two pollutant nutrients can make their way into groundwater and pollute springs.
The issue of unwanted nutrients from waste is apparently a potential concern among Adena Springs officials themselves, according to internal emails.
One email, obtained by the Star-Banner through Florida's public records laws, involved consultant Daniel Colvin.
Colvin is an Adena consultant and also director of research programs at University of Florida's Plant Science Research and Education Unit.
He wrote to Adena spokeswoman Honey Rand that he had concerns about reducing the irrigation areas from 87 to 34 and how it would impact pasture/forest ratios and nutrient impact.
Adena lawyer Edward de la Parte emailed in response that although the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was planning to set nutrient standards for Silver Springs, those standards would not apply to Adena as long as the ranch followed Florida's agricultural "Best Management Practices."
He advised that Adena officials during an Aug. 22 public meeting discuss the lower number of irrigation areas, but not discuss details about nutrient plans.
Thomas said the internal emails reflected an attitude by Adena officials presenting Adena in the best possible light and how Florida farms were immune to many state water and pollution standards.
Thomas obtained the emails because UF is a public entity. The Star-Banner subsequently sought and received the same emails.
Rand said St. Johns' requests are extensive. "There has never been this level of scrutiny. This level … has been unprecedented."
"We're very disappointed that the (water) district did not find our application complete," she said.
"The next step is a face-to-face meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page," she said. "This level of surprise (for more information) warrants a face-to-face meeting.
"If this is an indication of what is to come from the water management district, anybody with an agricultural permit (application) out there should pay attention and be very concerned," Rand said.
Contact Fred Hiers at 867-4157 or email@example.com.
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