For now, county votes not to challenge MFLs

Alachua County commissioners, clockwise from upper left, Mike Byerly, Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV, Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson and Susan Baird participate in a meeting Tuesday in these images from video.

Alachua County Government
Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 6:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 6:35 p.m.

Alachua County commissioners spent time Tuesday asking questions about proposed protections for the Ichetucknee and Lower Santa Fe rivers as they tried to determine whether filing a formal challenge to the potential rules would be worthwhile.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection plans on adopting rules that would set minimum flows and levels, or MFLs, and associated recovery strategies for the pair of rivers and their springs. It would be the agency's first time ever adopting MFLs, which denote the water levels above which there can be permitting without causing any significant environmental harm to a body of water.

It's anticipated that both rivers will fall below the MFLs once DEP has established them, which is why recovery strategies have also been included in the proposal. The MFLs would apply to the Suwannee River and St. Johns River water management districts.

Alachua County government has some issues with the newest version of the DEP's rules, which got rid of a prospective five-year limit for certain consumptive use permits and would allow 20-year permits instead.

The updated proposal would also require the re-evaluation of the MFLs once the North Florida Southeast Georgia Regional Groundwater Flow Model is completed.

That would have to happen at least by the end of 2019. Until then, existing permits still deemed necessary would basically be renewed but could be altered later after the MFLs have been re-evaluated.

The commission ended up divided on the situation, with Commissioners Susan Baird, Mike Byerly and Lee Pinkoson voting against a motion to file a petition challenging the rules proposed by the state DEP.

Although the commission decided against challenging the rule Tuesday, there may still be time for the board to change directions if commissioners decide to do so.

There is an anticipated MFLs adoption hearing on April 3.

Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, who made the motion to challenge the DEP rules, pointed out the recovery strategy doesn't require anyone to do anything and said the proposed rules impermissibly weaken existing water management district permitting requirements.

The corruption of this process and the resulting damage to area rivers and springs have to be stopped somewhere, sometime, he said.

Challenging the rule could cost an estimated $100,000 or so, although some money has already been spent on related preparations, County Attorney Michele Lieberman said.

Commissioner Susan Baird advised against challenging the rule just to make a statement and, in the end, fight a losing battle.

“It's really silly to waste money, and I know it's a good cause and I know it feels like the right thing to do, but when you're wasting money, it's always a bad idea,” she said.

Byerly said he wasn't interested in making a futile gesture either.

Commissioner Lee Pinkoson explained that, in his opinion, having something in place in this situation -- namely, the proposed DEP rules -- is better than having nothing in place.

Carlos Herd, water supply division director for the Suwannee River Water Management District, pointed out the proposed rules were trying to maintain the area economy by not tightening the grip on existing users until they get a better tool, in this case the groundwater flow model, to determine they're the ones causing the impacts.

The longer it takes to implement protections for the Ichetucknee and Lower Santa Fe rivers, the higher the cost of recovery for those resources could become, Herd said.

Without the DEP's proposed rules, the Suwannee and St. Johns water management districts wouldn't have the constraints in place to require offsets for the impact that new permitted uses would have on those rivers, Herd told The Sun after the meeting.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or

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