- Special Sections
- Public Notices
“So here comes the ‘bad’ news: A water-use permit application has recently been filed at the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) requesting an average withdrawal of more than 13 million gallons of water a day (MGD) from the Floridan Aquifer. The purpose of this water use will be to care for 30,000 head of cattle, and the associated slaughterhouse. Even more alarming, the request includes use of more than 26 MGD, maximum pumpage, from more than 100 wells located on 30,000 acres of land just north of Ocala.”
— Gary Kuhl, environmental engineer, quoted in the Citrus County Chronicle.
Mr. Kuhl’s are the typical thoughts of environmental activists and regulators who stifle economic growth and trample upon private property rights. Many of them place more value on preserving the Earth, undisturbed, than upon permitting citizens to utilize the bounty of the Earth to earn a living.
Let’s put this into proper perspective. Thirteen million gallons of water per day are to be withdrawn to support 30,000 head of cattle, create jobs and provide food for millions of people.
The Floridan Aquifer from which the water will be withdrawn is about 100,000 square miles in size, extending from southern Georgia throughout most of Florida. I could find no estimates, but it probably contains hundreds of trillions of gallons of water. Twelve million gallons per day is but a tiny fraction of that number and far less than is lost every day by evaporation from just a few of the lakes fed by that aquifer.
The average thunderstorm is estimated to contain around 275 million gallons of water. One small storm dumping water on the aquifer every 10 days would easily replace the 13 million gallons requested to be withdrawn daily.
But all 13 million gallons need not be replaced. Some water will evaporate and some will become part of the cows. Most of the water will be returned directly to the aquifer after it has been used for irrigation and as waste water, filtered by the soil. The impact of actual water loss upon the flow of water in nearby Silver Springs, something which alarms Mr. Kuhl, would be too small to measure.
Silver Springs, indeed, has been flowing at lower rates in 10 of the last 20 years. Flows correlate best with the reduced average rainfall during that period — something outside the control of regulators. Had rainfall been above average over the past decade, flows would have been above average despite what was withdrawn from the aquifer for human use.
The effect of population growth in the area, assumed to reduce flows, is difficult to measure. But, again, keep in mind that water consumed by humans is returned to the aquifer, not forever lost. Our utilization of water most probably has little effect on flows in springs and on water table levels. However, it does affect water quality.
Mr. Kuhl might better have expressed alarm about the increasing levels of nitrates in the springs. Nitrate pollution encourages the growth of algae and puts pressure on native plants and stream life. Nitrate pollution is directly affected by fertilizers used to grow food and by unavoidable human waste. The nitrate problem was many decades in the making and would take decades to eliminate, even if all humans were banned from Florida. It won’t be solved by denying the commerce and economic growth which funds solutions to the problem. It cannot be solved by cutting off our food supply.
Restoring the environment to the pristine state that existed when humans in Florida struggled to survive parasites, pestilence and heat is not a reasonable goal. A workable balance between human needs and a healthy environment is the best we can do. It seems, at times, that environmentalists lose sight of this.
William Dixon is a graduate of Columbia University, New York Medical College and the USF College of Business Administration. He served in the Army as a surgeon and as a Special Forces Officer, achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Georgia before entering private practice. Dr. Dixon can be reached at Wdixon16@yahoo.com.