The deputy went in to see what the ruckus was about. It was Lu Merritt, Mike Roth, Jim Tatum, Mike Kern, and then me, in extensive discussion about a water withdrawal permit request, that Jim Tatum called Words of Truth to the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) Board.
On the agenda for that Monday, 14 May 2019:
20. Approval of New Water Use Permit 2-001-234425-1, Authorizing a Maximum 0.1462 mgd of Groundwater for Agricultural Use at the Parker Pond Project, Alachua County
I was actually there for this later item:
30. Valdosta Wastewater Update
In interaction with Tom Mirti, I confirmed that FDEP is doing DNA and sucralose (human waste marker) testing monthly at the GA-FL line on the Withlacoochee and Alapaha (not Alapahoochee) Rivers, and at the Withlacoochee Confluence with the Suwannee River. However, SRWMD has no plans for doing complementary weeks.
I found the public relations method research by Katelyn Potter to be fascinating.
Below are links to each WWALS video of each speaker, with some notes, followed by a WWALS video playlist.
Agriculture will have to change –Jim Tatum, OSFR
This cannot go all on the shoulder of the farmers…
We all have to share this….
Spending money is not the answer….
We have to address the two main problems: overpumping and overfertilization.”
Jim Tatum said that’s true
SRWMD Board Member Virginia Sanchez: “I disagree…. Every two acres they know exactly what that crop needs….”
Tatum agreed, but said we need to stop the overfertilization.
Sanchez also insisted it was also people along the river. (She’s from Old Town, which has possibly the biggest problem with septic tanks along the Suwannee River.)
Tatum agreed that it was everybody and sat down.
Change needs to come from agriculture –Lu Merritt, Ichetucknee ALliance
Ichetucknee Alliance Staff, Lu Merritt,, had already presented earlier in the meeting STATEMENT BY THE ICHETUCKNEE ALLIANCE TO THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE SUWANNEE RIVER WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT.
Now she stood to say:
I understand ag. is doing a lot of wonderful things. I worry…. is it going to be enough….
There needs to be an acknowledgement of how agriculture has changed since the time when there were no center pivots….
Maybe there are some crops that need to be grown on the confined aquifer, and not on the unconfined aquifer.” She said that change needs to come from agriculture, and will need to involve FDACS and the legislature.
- I’ve been here forty years, not twenty –Mike Roth, OSFR
What has changed for this permit to be requested? –Mike Kern, Gilchrist County
Video. Mike Kern of Gilchrist County: “What has changed to cause this fairly dramatic increase in withdrawal?”
SRWMD Staff said this was a permit issued by staff, brought to the SRWMD Board only because of an objection. Before this permit it was not used for agriculture.
Kern discussed increased clearcutting.
SRWMD Board Chair, Virginia H. Johns said this is partly due to Gainesville expanding, pushing agriculture outwards.
SRWMD Board Member Bradley Williams: said a lot of the clearcutting was preparing for replanting.
Kern said a lot of it was not planted pines being cleared. He offered to start bringing pictures as evidence.
SRWMD Board Member Virginia Sanchez: “I can go by a lot of fields that used to be farmland, and now it’s houses on it.” She said especially around Newberry.
Kern recommended every time a permit comes to the board, the board should ask what has changed?
Sanchez said when she was younger you could go from Newberry to Archer and there were no houses, now few farms.
Kern brought up the phenomenon of farmers getting more money by selling out to developers.
Agriculture is the nitrate problem, but it can change. –John S. Quarterman
Video. Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman said:
I’m all in favor of agriculture for a number of reasons.
The more clearcutting and impervious surface you get, the more flooding and sewage overflows you get, like nobody likes seeing coming down the river from Valdosta.“
I agreed there are problems with septic tanks, yet according to FDEP, in multiple presentations in this room, their BMAPs say in the Suwannee River Basin the big problem with algae in springs and rivers is nitrates from fertilizers leaching through the soil. It’s even worse in the upper and middle Suwannee than we were hearing about earlier in the Santa Fe. In the upper and middle Suwannee, the decrease needs to be about 83 to 92% in nitrates.
SRWMD Board Member Kevin W. Brown appeared to be nodding at this BMAP information.
This is not to say there are not necessarily septic tank problems along the river, which is the topic I want to talk about later. That’s why we need more frequent, regular water quality testing to find out where stuff is coming from. But as far as the nitrates leaching in the Suwannee River Basin, the problem is agriculture.
I would say it is possible to grow things with less fertilizer. I say this because I do it. Yes, I live in Georgia, in Lowndes County, the next county across, on family land. But we grow corn. We use a third as much fertilizer as our neighbors do. How can we do this? Because we don’t use seeds that have been bred to resist roundup. We use heirloom seed that’s drought resistant. And it is possible to do it. Do we get as many bushels per acre? No. But we get significantly more protein in corn, and the corn sells for more. Will that scale up to the size agriculture that people are using in the rest of the Suwannee River Basin? I don’t know. We need some big farmers to find out. I wonder where we can find anybody with deep pockets? Anyway, thank you.
Sanchez: “With the price of corn today? It don’t matter what you’re growing. You can’t make it.”
- Approved the Parker Pond permit unanimously. –Board
- 22. Renew SRP Technician Services, unanimously approved –Board
23. Ag. Cooperative Funding Initiative: Board must vet any changes –Don Quincey
Quincey wanted to make it clear that any such change must be vetted before the board. Staff agreed.
Board unanimously approved the proposal.
- 24. Water Conservation Cost-Share Funding: approved –Board
- 25. Water and Land Resources: Intro –Tom Mirti
- 26. Land Management Review Team Report Team Effort –Bill McKinstry
- 27. Purchase Sierra Wireless LX-60s Modems, $99,257 –Tom Mirti
Coordination with FL Counties Rivers Task Force –Tom Mirti
Video. Water and Land Resources Deputy Executive Director Tom Mirti recounted the Meeting with Valdosta of the dozen downstream Florida counties and the April 25th meeting of those Counties’ Rivers Task Force in Lake City, FL.
FDEP doing DNA and sucralose testing? –John S. Quarterman
Video. I thanked Tom Mirti for his report on the Meeting with Valdosta of the dozen downstream Florida counties and reminded SRWMD that the WWALS videos are YouTue. Including Tom Mirti’s calculation that it will take Valdosta about 162 years to get 10% done with everything outside the WWTP.
Mirti: that’s an improvement over 300 years.
jsq: yet at 40-year lifetime, they’d keep getting farther behind.
I had some remaining questions on April 10th, which I asked Valdosta, including: How do they know the catch basin is going to be big enough? Valdosta’s answer was they had a hydrological engineering report from Parsons Engineering of Atlanta. After some weeks, I pried that out of them, but only on paper. As soon as I get it electronically somehow, I will make it available so experts can evaluate it..
That’s mostly about spills such as the 1/3 of the gallons in December that did not come from the WWTP. Rather they came from places such as Wainwright Drive, still leaking after years, with a more direct path to the river down One Mile Branch than downhill from the WWTP..
Valdosta wants to raise $40 million in upcoming SPLOST November referendum.
I think we all want to know where E. coli is coming from in Georgia, and is it really coming from that plant.
I mentioned the meeting FDEP requested in Orlando on April 15th with Waterkeepers Florida (WKFL). That required explaining what is WKFL.
Then I noted that, as confirmed on the telephone yesterday by Darlene Velez, FDEP is now testing monthly for DNA and sucralose and other human waste markers at the GA-FL state line on the Withlacoochee and Alapaha Rivers and at the Withlacoochee Confluence with the Suwannee River, right?
Mirti: It’s the Alapaha, not the Alapahoochee. It’s part of their ongoing sampling.
jsq: OK. One open question is how can we get that data in less than four months? Another is, will the district be doing two other weeks of the month? In addition to the current monitoring for nitrates? DNA and sucralose?
Mirti: No. No discussions with FDEP on that. If we did do sampling, we would coordinate with them, so we would not be doing it at the same time.
I noted that that’s why I always double- and triple-check whatever I can; to see if there was some miscommunciation somewhere.
- 31. SRWMD Planning and MFL Schedule –Darlene Velez
- Introducing intern Julianna Navarro –Darlene Velez
- Executive Office: Intro –Hugh Thomas
32. Springs, social media, and $300,000 grant –Katelyn Potter
Video. Katelyn Potter, Communications & Organizational Development Chief, presented some fascinating public relations research. Pictures of her slides are on the WWALS website.
Lindsey Garland carrying the ball –Hugh Thomas
Video. Lindsey Garland, Public Communications Coordinator, will be picking up the slack as Katelyn Potter goes on maternity leave.
- 33. Ribbon cutting at Rock Bluff 31 May –Hugh Thomas
Here’s a LAKE video playlist:
Videos: Parker Pond water withdrawals, BMAPs, Valdosta, and Testing @ SRWMD 2019-05-14
Video by John S. Quarterman for WWALS Watershed Coalition (WWALS), Live Oak, FL.
There are more pictures on the WWALS website.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!