CEJ Attorneys Write to SJRWMD

Double & Nothing: SJRWMD Grants Niagara's Permit, Ignores the Wekiva River and Springs

CEJ Director Patricia Siemen and CEJ staff attorney Rob Williams were among numerous citizens and organizations submitting comments to the St. Johns River Water Management District, raising serious concerns about Niagara Bottling’s request to nearly double its water withdrawals from 484,000 gallons per day to 910,000 gallons per day and shift its target from the Upper Floridan Aquifer to the Lower Floridan Aquifer.

Williams and Siemen’s February 10, 2014, letter pointed out that the Wekiva River and its associated springs–which will be impacted by any increased water withdrawals–are already below the minimum flow levels established by the District itself, and the District’s own rules require that a consumptive use permit should not be issued if it will cause a surface water  course to fall  below the minimum flow.

Williams and Siemen’s letter also challenged the analysis Niagara submitted in support of its application for the increase, pointing out that the analysis itself is flawed and that it is also inconsistent with recent information from the Central Florida Water Initiative.  They cited the District’s own studies and reports to show that the Wekiva Basin springs and the Wekiva River are already suffering ecological harm as a result of lack of water, and called upon the District to follow its own rules to protect them from further damage.

On February 11, 2014, the District granted Niagara’s request to double the amount of water it  pumps from the aquifer.  

From the letter:

We believe that this permit application raises a question of profound importance to the current and future citizens of our state. Simply put, will the water management district act to protect the ecological integrity of the Wekiva Basin and the Wekiva River?

. . . .

The facts set out in this letter are already well known to you and the Board from our extensive prior correspondence. They have not been disputed and, since they largely are derived from the district’s own data, it seems difficult to see how they could be challenged. In response to our numerous letters, we received a response from Deputy Secretary Drew Bartlett, dated November 8, 2013. Although Mr. Bartlett acknowledged that Rock and Wekiwa Springs are projected to fall below the MFLs by 2015[, he states] that “district staff has made a reasonable case that the violation of MFLs for Wekiwa and Rock Springs may not occur by 2015 in the absence of increased withdrawals” (emphasis added). Now, three months later, the Board is on the brink of authorizing an increase in withdrawals.

We have repeatedly asked you to implement a recovery plan for the Wekiva basin as required by the statute. To date no such plan has been implemented. We have also asked that you declare a water shortage and implement conservation measures as provided under the district’s rule. We have been told by Mr. Bartlett that in response to our request to follow the law, the district intends to repeal the portion of the MFL rule requiring the phased water restrictions. Today we again ask that you protect the precious treasure of the Wekiva River, one of only two nationally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in our state, by denying Niagara’s permit application as required by Chapter 40C-2.301(5)(a).

Read the full text of the letter here.