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2012 in review: MFL debate continues

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Determining minimum flows and levels for rivers a hot topic in 2012

By Abdon Sidibe

For the uninitiated, MFLs — or minimum flows and levels — is beginning to hold water.

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In the past year, some county residents have been embroiled in a point-and-counterpoint debate with officials with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) over water flow levels at two of the county’s seven rivers.

It culminated in a compromise of sorts by SWFWMD’s governing board.

The water district board rejected the staff’s recommended levels of flow, reducing the proposed minimum flow for the Chassahowitzka River from an initial recommendation.

The board voted to set the MFLs for each river at 3 percent. The SWFWMD staff recommendation was initially for 3 and 9 percent respectively for the Homosassa and Chassahowitzka rivers.

The board also instructed SWFWMD staff to develop the framework for a “water use cautionary area” for Hernando and Citrus counties and present it to the board in June 2013. Cautionary areas require more stringent water withdrawal permit rules.

The “compromise” also requires MFLs be reviewed every six years rather than the usual 10 years.

Many locals and environmental advocates are not pleased.

Brad Rimbey, who is with SOS NOW, an umbrella group of disparate environmental organizations, said last week their attorney is preparing a petition letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to ask for the agency’s intercession in the matter.

“What we want is for them (SWFWMD) to follow the law,” Rimbey said.

He said his group would like to see the law as called for by the rules of the Outstanding Florida Waters designation. An Outstanding Florida Water (OFW) is a water designated worthy of special protection because of its natural attributes. This special designation is applied to certain waters, and is intended to protect existing good water quality.

“We feel like they are failing to follow what that law says. What we need is restoration, certainly not further degradation,” Rimbey said.

Rimbey applauded the board’s decision to broach the issue of designating the river systems as possible cautionary areas.

SWFWMD officials have insisted the OFW rules do not apply in this case and that agency staff members have worked fastidiously since 2005 to fashion the best recommendations for the rivers.

While officials acknowledge degradation at the rivers, they blame it on other factors, such as poor rainfall amounts — a 20 percent to 30 percent drop — rising sea levels and nutrient levels.

They insist the agency came up with the most protective regime for these rivers — stronger than for all other rivers except one.

This year SWFWMD is expected to begin work on setting MFLs for the Crystal River and King’s Bay. Setting MFLs is mandated by state law.

PUBLIC HEARING
 The Southwest Florida Water Management District has scheduled a public hearing to give affected persons an opportunity to present evidence and argument on the rules proposed by the district to establish minimum flows for the Homosassa and Chassahowitzka River Systems.

 District staff will be available to respond to questions or comments regarding the proposed rules.

 The public hearing will be 10 a.m. until noon Tuesday, Jan. 15, in the district’s governing board room, at 2379 Broad St., Brooksville.