Our Santa Fe River and Ichetucknee Alliance for water conservation

Much conservation activism lately on the third main tributary of the Suwannee River, the Santa Fe River, with its tributary the Ichetucknee River, both completely in Florida, unlike WWALS’ Withlacoochee and Alapaha Rivers, which cross from Georgia into Florida. They each have their own watershed groups, somewhat like WWALS.

Christopher Curry wrote for the Gainesville Sun 21 June 2014, Grassroots environmentalists fight to protect Ichetucknee, Santa Fe,

At the head spring, a woman stands in knee-deep water on the stairs leading into the swimming hole. About 20 feet in front of her, splashing, swimming family members shout out some encouragement to try to coax her into the cold blue water.

It’s an idyllic scene of summer fun. At a nearby picnic table in the shade, the atmosphere is more serious.

There, some folks from two small but active environmental groups in the Suwannee River Water Management District Our Santa Fe River and the Ichetucknee Alliance — are gathered, sharing their concerns about the changes they’ve seen in the rivers and springs over the years.

“I started going in that river when I was 5 years old,” said John Jopling, 57, a Gainesville attorney and the president of the Ichetucknee Alliance.

“My family has owned a place on the Lower Ichetucknee for 35 years. We know there’s not as much water flowing in it and that the turquoise blue water and healthy eelgrass is gone.”

300x201 Santa Fe River, in Santa Fe and Itchetucknee Rivers, by John S. Quarterman, for WWALS.net, 25 June 2014 These grassroots environmentalists continue to fight legal battles in a campaign to protect and restore the rivers and springs. Established last year, the Ichetucknee Alliance is challenging the Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed minimum flows and levels for the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe rivers and their springs.

The group argues the state does not do enough to protect those water bodies and does not do it soon enough, since existing holders on water withdrawal permits will not have to take any actions to comply with the protections until three years after the completion of a new computer groundwater flow model for North Florida and South Georgia or the end of 2019, whichever is first….

That flow model is different from the proposed Army Corps of Engineers flooding study for the Suwannee River basin.

The article says FPL and other utilities challenged the proposed rule to get still more water from the Ichetucknee, which is already a lower flow levels and with water not as clean as in former years.

300x149 Ichetucknee River, in Santa Fe and Itchetucknee Rivers, by John S. Quarterman, for WWALS.net, 25 June 2014 Five days of hearings in Tallahassee on that challenge and another that argues the protections are too weak wrapped up in Tallahassee on June 13. Lu Merritt, a Fort White resident member of the alliance, said that, with the assistance of the larger environmental group EarthJustice, the small, grassroots group argued its case in the same room as state, water management district and utility attorneys there to support the rule.

There’s much more in the article about how the Suwannee River Water Management District could be doing more and how the two local river groups are trying to get it to, including this:

John Jopling, president of the Ichetucknee Alliance, and Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, president of Our Santa Fe River, are shown at the head springs of Ichetucknee Springs State Park in Fort White, Fla., Wednesday, June 18, 2014.
Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, the founder of Our Santa Fe River, has since filed a petition seeking an administrative hearing to challenge the crop-farming permit. Malwitz-Jipson has consistently called on the district to put a moratorium on issuing groundwater withdrawal permits until MFLs are in place and enforced.

The situation isn’t as dire in south Georgia yet, mostly because there hasn’t been as much overpumping from the rivers or aquifer here (yet). Georgia’s Suwannee-Satilla Regional Water Planning Council (SSRWPC) that met in Valdosta in May seems to be making serious plans, but it doesn’t have permitting or fining authority like its Florida counterpart does.

And remember, everyone in the Suwannee River basin drinks out of the same underground Floridan Aquifer.


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