Steve Kesterson: Bureaucratic smoke and mirrors


Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 3:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 3:47 p.m.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for water policy and ecosystem restoration gave us a genuine, feel-good pep talk in a guest column posted online on May 30.

Greg Munson put a smiley face on state government’s dismal record of water resource management and stewardship of our major springs, touting this year’s legislative “investment” of $10 million for springs projects and “restoration” plans.

Minimum flows (established and set by our water management districts) “will result in a recovery plan to restore spring flows,” Munson stated. He went on to imply that our receding aquifer levels are primarily due to the extended drought and that withdrawals from the aquifer only account for 5 to 10 percent of the decline in spring flows.

Munson refers to “best available science” and “extensive science” as if government concern for springs and their source, the aquifer, has been an ongoing project of salvation and study by DEP and the water management districts. In all fairness, some of what Munson says is true, in and of itself. But, regulation, blind study and bureaucratic evaluation of the problem have done little to stem the current downward spiral of our water supply. And these “recovery plans” involve a future of micromanagement and a bottomless pit of expense to implement. You can plan and recommend ‘til the cows come home but reality versus wishful thinking and lip service only fuel denial of the real root of the problem.

Fifty years ago, there were less than 2 million people living in Florida. Over a third of the state was underwater. When I was growing up in the decade from 1953 to ’63 there were five years of rainfall that met or exceeded 60 inches annually.

Today’s count of springs and minor outflows is approximately 1,000 north of Orlando. Back then, water literally bubbled out of the ground and artesian outflows were prolific and easy to tap. When I was a youngster we lived on the farm for several years and had an artesian well head that created a pond of about 3 acres. It stunk to high heaven with sulfur off-gas and if the wind was right it would make you gag. My grandfather thought this was the fountain of youth. Every other day he would wade out into the pond and fill a pickle jar with the odorous elixir so he could sip on the potion when the notion struck him.

As a teenager, after farm labor stopped for the summer, we would jet galvanized pipe with a garden hose down in people’s yards to use as lawn and landscape watering. At 10 feet, the water would literally flow from the ground. Add a small pump and you were irrigating. There was a minor problem for the homeowner; once the daily rains ceased it was only a matter of time before the shallow well pumped red clay and stained the house with colored fans. It made identifying new well prospects easy the next year, though.

After 50 years we have a population approaching 20 million, not counting the millions who live here and add to the water consumption during the winter. How will we recover when minimum flows drop below themselves? And how do we facilitate the massive recharge required to restore aquifer levels when withdrawals already exceed input?

Rainbow Springs is a good model. Flows are down substantially. According to Bob Knight there are 22,799 consumptive use permits (wells) surrounding Rainbow Springs out to the Levy County line. Tampa’s numbers will really scare you. Meanwhile our bureaucrats, environmental and water science agencies keep re-inventing themselves in little dribs and drabs.

Finally, one of the saddest consequences of this history is as our population grows the number of people with a historic perspective narrows proportionately. As we die off, those left, have the perspective of today and don’t really know or appreciate what we had.

Steve Kesterson Sr. lives in Inglis and is a board member of the Withlacoochee Area Residents, Inc., a non-profit advocacy group that is active in environmental and natural resource conservation and stewardship.

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