The NFRWSP’s job is to figure out how to increase water levels in the aquifer. –Dennis J. Price 2016-12-12

This is a letter Practicing Geologist Dennis J. Price wrote for publication.

December 12, 2016

RE: North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership

About 5 years ago, a report prepared for the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) indicated that under North Columbia County, East Hamilton County and Baker County, ground water levels in the Floridan aquifer (the aquifer the majority of us citizens get our water from) had dropped about 20 feet, more or less. The effects of the loss of that 20 feet was first felt and is very obvious in White Springs, 13 miles north of Lake City. The spring quit flowing for all intents and purposes. Tourism and the Towns economy plummeted.

[2019-04-03 White Sulfur Spring Flowing]
2019-04-03 White Sulfur Spring Flowing, so unusual an event it was reported for SRWMD by their Senior Hydrologist Fay Baird.

The report placed the greatest blame for the drawdown on water use by the coastal communities of South Georgia and North Florida. Scientists from the St. John’s River Water Management District (SJRWMD) at first concurred with this assessment. After objections from the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) and the removal of several key employees at the SJRWMD, the SJRWMD said they weren’t sure anymore and a study needed to be done.

So, you guessed it, a committee was formed, The North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership (NFRWSP). Don’t get me wrong regarding this committee, it is probably the single most important committee ever formed in our area. Their plans will affect the continued growth of North Florida communities along with the economy and recreational opportunities in our lakes and rivers.

Figure C3: Aquifer surface change due to withdrawals in north Florida and south Georgia

The NFRWSP’s job is to figure out how to increase water levels in the aquifer. Their plans are varied and all are important. The most important plan is to artificially recharge the aquifer. These plans vary from injecting waste water back to the aquifer to returning diverted water back to sinkholes where they once flowed into, to pumping water from the Suwannee River to an injection well, to be constructed at Falling Creek in Columbia County.

Now we get to why this committee is so important. Also keep in mind, all our rivers, springs and lakes react negatively to a loss in ground water. So the 20 feet of loss has already affected many of our water bodies.

At the same time the NFRWSP is finalizing their plan, the SRWMD is coming close to completing a sate wide legislative mandate to set Minimum Levels and Flows (MLF’s) for all our rivers. The MLF for a water body, say the Santa Fe or Suwannee River, will require that once the water level reaches that minimum flow, no new water uses can be permitted that may cause ground water levels to drop further, causing adverse impacts to that river.

My explanation in the last two sentences doesn’t come close to explaining the complexities of the process. I have a simple but real example that sheds light on why the NFRWSP’s plan is so important. Because White Springs is above the highest levels in the aquifer, loss of water affects us first. Soon the MFL’s for the Upper Suwannee River will be set, it is no secret that a potential private land development is being planned near White Springs. Hamilton County needs this kind of growth. It’s a real possibility that the River here is already near or at the MFL that will be set. So when any large development that needs large amounts of water applies for a water use permit, they may be denied that permit and the project dies. Hamilton County suffers.

Because the levels in our rivers, springs and lake are dependent on our aquifer levels remaining high, adding more water to the aquifer is the only way to counter this problem. The more the better. Water use along the coast is causing the current problem but that did not start the problem. Starting in the late 1800’s and continuing through the 1950’s-1970’s when planted pine plantations started, much of our large wetlands systems have been drained purposefully in order to harvest the cypress out of the wetlands and to dry up marginal wetlands to create more acres of pine plantations. These canals and ditches, for the most part, are not plugged. Plugging ditches in the flatwoods would flood out private land owners.

The source of water in our aquifer is from rainfall, prior to draining the wetlands, water sat in the wetlands and provided the recharge. Ditching removed huge volumes of water that would have went towards recharge. Plugging the ditches now is not practicable, so in order to return large quantities of water to the aquifer, recharge wells will be necessary.

Dennis J. Price, P.G.

P.G. Price supplied a concrete proposal for the WWALS comments on the NFRWSP of December 6, 2016, involving small aquifer recharge wells in pine plantation ditches.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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