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District staff urges denial of controversial ranch water request

Tue, Jul 15, 2014

Legislation, Permitting, Water districts

State officials are recommending denial of a requested water use permit for a cattle ranch in Marion County whose application in 2011 prompted a political campaign on behalf of Florida’s springs.

Sleepy Creek Ranch The St. Johns River Water Management District staff says the application by Sleepy Creek Lands for 1.12 million in new pumping, combined with exiting permitted water uses in the region, represents a threat to Silver Springs in Ocala.

But another permit involving Sleepy Creek Lands, formerly Adena Springs Ranch, for 1.46 million gallons of existing permitted water use was recommended for approval in May but faces a legal challenge.

In 2011, billionaire Frank Stronach’s 30,000-acre Adena Springs Ranch in Marion County applied to the St. Johns River Water Management District for a permit to use up to 13.2 million gallons of water daily. The proposal to produce grass-fed beef follows a nationwide diet trend for some health-conscious and green-friendly consumers.

The water request touched off a firestorm of protests including a 2012 rally in Ocala led by former U. S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Miami Lakes. Environmental groups presented petitions they said were signed by 15,000 calling for protection of Silver and Rainbow springs in Marion County.

Springs legislation passed the Florida Senate in April but wasn’t heard by the House before the 2014 legislative session ended.

Stronach’s request later was reduced from 13.2 million gallons to nearly 2.6 million gallons per day, according to the district.

The St. Johns River Water Management District said the requested additional pumping of 1.12 million gallons per day, combined with permits already issued, could lead to less flooding of Silver Springs and the Silver River 12 miles away. Less water would cause the floodplain to dry out while reducing fish habitat and the uptake of nutrients, such as nitrogen.

The district staff recommendation to deny could go before the governing board at its Aug. 12 meeting in Palatka.

Sleepy Creek Lands issued a statement saying that the staff report actually backs the company and that a permit would have been issued except for “newly adopted methodology” for analyzing the request.

“This staff finding doesn’t just impact Sleepy Creek Lands but impacts every water user in the area including all of the residents of the city of Ocala who are now faced with how the District proposes to deal with such an over-permitted situation,” the company statement concluded.

The St. Johns River Water Management District staff in May recommended approval of the nearly 1.5 million gallons of water use currently permitted along with modifications, including moving some pumping the north.

That request is being challenged by Sierra Club Florida, the St. Johns Riverkeeper and individuals Karen Ahlers and Jeri Baldwin, with a hearing scheduled for late August. They said a hearing is needed to determine whether springs and waterways are being protected from over-pumping and pollution.

John R. Thomas, an attorney representing Ahlers and Baldwin, said the company and agency are working together to defend the challenge so the recommended denial now “smells fishy.”

“By outward appearance, it looks like St. Johns is doing the right thing denying the second modification,” Thomas said. “We agree and laud the denial. However, the situation is very unusual.”

(Map is from the St. Johns River Water Management District web site. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not republish, copy or forward without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com .)

2 Responses to “District staff urges denial of controversial ranch water request”

  1. Lu Merritt says:

    Just because staff recommends something doesn’t mean the governing board of the WMD will acquiesce to that recommendation; the board could still approve this permit.

    This statement from Sleepy Creek is spot on: ““This staff finding doesn’t just impact Sleepy Creek Lands but impacts every water user in the area including all of the residents of the city of Ocala who are now faced with how the District proposes to deal with such an over-permitted situation,” the company statement concluded.”

    If we are going to save our springs (and by extension, our rivers and the aquifer that supplies our drinking water), we are ALL–every single one of us–going to have to change the ways in which we use water. It is ironic that this message is coming not from our water managers and elected leaders, but from a private company that is trying to use it to elicit fear and apprehension. We should be facing this situation as a challenge. If we can put men on the moon, we should be able to save our springs, rivers, lakes and aquifer, and we should be mounting a creative, innovative, COOPERATIVE effort to do so.

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  1. Sunburn for 7/16 - A morning read of what's hot in Florida politics - SaintPetersBlog - July 16, 2014

    […] DISTRICT STAFF URGES DENIAL OF CONTROVERSIAL RANCH WATER REQUEST via Bruce Ritchie of Florida Environments […]