Again, panel wants county to ask that Adena Springs permit be denied
Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 6:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 6:55 p.m.
For the second time in as many years, Alachua County's Environmental Protection Advisory Committee has recommended that the County Commission ask the St. Johns River Water Management District to reject Adena Springs Ranch's controversial request to use an average of 5.3 million gallons of water daily for its cattle operation in Marion County.
The County Commission may not follow the recommendation, but EPAC's request has spurred a discussion on whether the county should establish a policy for weighing in on consumptive use permits.
Billionaire Frank Stronach is developing the project, which comprises more than 25,000 acres. He owns approximately 30,000 acres in Marion County, as well as more than 30,000 acres in Levy County.
The permit application has drawn opposition from environmentalists and local residents over concerns that its sizable water withdrawals could negatively impact nearby Silver Springs and the aquifer.
EPAC Chairman Bob Palmer sent a letter to the County Commission earlier this month recommending it encourage the SJRWMD to deny the pending Adena Springs permit due to concerns about the possible degree of its depletion of the county's groundwater resources and the potential nutrient pollution the cattle operation could cause.
In May 2012, EPAC made the same request. But, as Palmer's letter pointed out, the commission didn't follow that recommendation. In the year that passed between the committee's letters, Adena Springs lowered its request from use of up to 13.3 million gallons per day to 5.3 million gallons a day.
According to Palmer's May 2013 letter, the advisory committee met with Adena Springs representatives in March at its monthly meeting, but their presentation didn't assuage members' concerns.
"We came in skeptical and I think we left equally as skeptical about the wisdom of this permit," Palmer said.
Adena representatives said the ranch's water withdrawals wouldn't have a big impact on local water levels, but EPAC believes it could have a greater effect, he said. Members are also concerned about possible nutrient pollution due to the fertilizer used on Adena Springs' pastures and its cattle. Palmer said ranch representatives maintain the nitrogen wouldn't get into the water, but he thinks that's too optimistic.
"We believe that these assertions are based on simplistic hydrological modeling and dubious assumptions about nearly perfect uptake of nutrients by pasture crops," Palmer's letter stated.
The letter cited concerns about the operation's potential impact on the county's groundwater resources, which are already being depleted due to over-pumping of the aquifer, as well as to bodies of water like Orange Lake.
Palmer emphasized the need for the County Commission to weigh in on cases like this because water is a huge local issue.
He admitted the commission's policy options may be limited, but said every bit of "political muscle" it can provide in situations like this would be helpful.
Commissioner Mike Byerly said he wants to develop a policy that is rational in the way the county handles these situations so the county doesn't single out individual users unfairly.
"It is important to recognize that we are all part of the water-use problem," he said, and the focus should be on avoiding "unnecessary or wasteful consumption." After all, 10 or 15 small permits can add up to one large permit like Adena Springs' request.
"I think it's a real problem that affects Alachua County residents directly and we ought to consider it," Byerly said. "But we ought to do it in a thoughtful way and a fair way, and that means considering the entire issues and deciding what kind of policy we're going to have on consumptive use permits in general..."
It's too early in the discussion to predict what kind of policy the county might adopt, but Byerly suggested one option might be to set a threshold size or trigger amount on a pending permit that prompts the commission to contact the water management district with its concerns.
The county may devise a policy in time to weigh in on the Adena Springs permit. Even if it doesn't, Byerly said the county would move forward with developing a policy for future cases.
The Sun made a request for comment from an Adena Springs representative but that person did respond in time for deadline.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.