Other Views from Those in the Know
executive director, St. John's Riverkeeper
Silver Springs, a Natural Treasure, is Gagging
Editor's Note: Former Gov. Bob Graham and the Florida Conservation Coalition are hosting an event June 23rd at Silver River State Park to call for better water protections. For more information, click here.
How is it that we could allow such an iconic and beloved natural treasure as Silver Springs to degrade so significantly? Over the last several decades, this National Natural Landmark has suffered from dramatic increases in nutrient pollution and declines in its flow of over 50 percent, partly due to excessive groundwater withdrawals, poorly treated wastewater and excessive use of fertilizer.
Silver Springs is one of our most famous natural resources, attracting millions of people to Florida over the last century and half. It supports more than 1,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of more than $61 million. It also provides a window into our aquifer and is an important source of fresh, clean water for the St. Johns River system.
This first-magnitude spring first flows into the Silver River, then the Ocklawaha River, which are both Florida Outstanding Waters. Despite their impressive designations, all of these bodies of water are suffering from problems related to pollution and flow.
Now, a large-scale cattle operation and slaughterhouse is seeking a permit to withdraw over 13 million gallons of water a day from the aquifer -- more water than is used by the entire city of Ocala. Adena Springs Ranch would include up to 30,000 head of cattle in the springshed of Silver Springs, an area prone to runoff and leaching of nutrients and pollutants.
However, this is about much more than Silver Springs. This is about the need to establish a more protective water-management system that prioritizes restoration and conservation. What is happening to Silver Springs is emblematic of the water quality and supply challenges we are facing throughout Florida, highlighting the significant pollution problems that exist and the impending water crisis we face. This is a fight for all of Florida’s rivers, lakes, springs, and aquifers, not a fight against a Canadian rancher or his cattle.
This permit challenges us to consider the highest and best use of the waters that we, the public, collectively own. We are forced to acknowledge the limits of our water resources and the consequences of exploiting our aquifer and polluting our surface waters. We are exposed to the shortcomings of our environmental safeguards and the need to reevaluate what is in the public interest, what is a "reasonable beneficial use,” and what determines "significant harm.”
We simply cannot continue to justify issuing permits for massive withdrawals from the aquifer when 97 percent of the St. Johns River watershed has been determined to be facing water shortages. We can’t risk adding more nutrients to waterways that are already polluted. We must focus on restoring the health of our impaired waters, instead of considering permits that could cause further harm.
Also, we must give serious consideration to what we value and what we are willing to sacrifice. If we can't save Silver Springs of all places, then what can we save and what is worth protecting?
The outcome of this permit can help shape the future of Florida’s water resources. We have an opportunity to forge a new, more protective and sustainable path. We simply cannot afford to continue to sacrifice our valuable water resources for the politics of the moment and the fortunes of a few. Water is the lifeblood of Florida’s economy and essential to our health and quality of life. By saving Silver Springs, maybe we can set the stage for the protection and restoration of all of Florida’s many imperiled waterways.
Jimmy Orth is executive director of St. Johns Riverkeeper, a private organization that advocates for healthy waters in and around the St. Johns. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published Monday, June 04, 2012