Reflections on the chaz.jpg

This 2018 photo shows part of the Chassahowitzka River.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) is recommending allowing up to an 8 percent flow reduction in the Chassahowitzka river system and a 5 percent reduction for the Homosassa river system — lower for Chassahowitzka and higher for Homosassa than was recommended during a contentious round of evaluations in 2013, after which the governing board set the rates for both at 3 percent.

Initial staff recommendations that year called for a flow-reduction rate of 9 percent for Chassahowitzka and 3 percent for Homosassa. After that 2013 rate was set for both rivers, the board required a re-evaluation of the minimum flow after six years, rather than the usual 10. The most recent recommendations are part of that re-evaluation.

Minimum water levels and/or flows set limits on water withdrawals from resources to avoid "significant harm" being done to them. MFLs define how often — and for how long — high, average and low water levels and/or flows should occur to prevent significant harm to the waterway, including in its role as a habitat.

“This is saying that ... you don’t hit the significant-harm threshold until you’ve hit an 8 percent reduction caused by groundwater withdrawal,” Jennette Seachrist, director of resource management for SWFWMD, said in a presentation to the Chronicle editorial board Wednesday, Jan. 9. “Based on the data and science and tools we have today, this is the best we can be. This is solid.”

Data gathered and changes made to criteria since the minimum flow was set at 3 percent six years ago helped SWFWMD staff arrive at the new recommended rates, Seachrist said.

“We identify what is the most critical, sensitive criteria to that system, and look at those models to identify and predict the impacts to those (criteria),” she explained. “Low salinity is one very critical, sensitive criteria. It’s needed for all kinds of ecosystems, to support the fish nurseries — it’s very critical, low-salinity habitat. So that’s a criteria we’d be looking at and developing models to predict — what the impacts to that low-salinity habitat would be. Another would be manatee habitat.”

The six years since the last recommendations allowed SWFWMD staff to gather and consider more data than was available in 2012 and 2013, Seachrist said, and the new data includes water-quality sampling.

“We collect the best information that’s available. ... The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Department of Environmental Protection also collect data, and we use it all for the analyses,” she explained. “We have all this new data ... especially in the spring systems and especially with sea-level rise, we’ve got a lot of things that potentially can change in a very dynamic system, and we want to do re-evaluations because the science and data improve.”

Another change: The new recommendations are based on the habitat needs of the common snook, which Seachrist said is the most sensitive species available for consideration.

“This is different for us — we worked with Fish and Wildlife and identified a more sensitive species for that low-temperature habitat,” she said. “We’re still protecting the manatee habitat. ... If you remember after that freeze in 2010, snook fishing was cut off for a few years until the fisheries rebounded. So it was important for us to see if there was a way to look for another criteria that would be more protective.”

Draft reports will be available online at watermatters.org/MFL later this month, Seachrist said, and the peer-review process starts in late January. A public meeting has been tentatively scheduled for June, and comments can be submitted to MFLComments@WaterMatters.org.

For more information and available documents, visit swfwmd.state.fl.us/projects/mfls.

Contact Chronicle reporter Carly Zervis at carly.zervis@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2925.

(3) comments

Alaska South

Watching SWFWMD continue to creep their numbers down to allow for further degradation of our aquatic resources strikes me as a classic example of an agency that is making their decisions based on politics rather than science. I saw this first hand, working for a Department of Natural Resources agency in another state, that I resigned from when I realized it was their standard unwritten policy to do this. The SWFWMD scientists must be under tremendous pressure from various sources to allow for the continued increase in removing the water from our aquifers and justifying it with their ‘scientific studies’. Much of their ‘science’ falls apart under closer examination, however. For example, how do they determine exactly what is ‘significant harm’? And why does it have to be ‘significant’ before it matters, instead of just regular old harm? Many, many people would argue that significant harm has already occurred to most, if not all, of our waterways and aquifers. The reason SWFWMD does not admit this is because of the way they do their science, which they admitted to me at one of their public meetings. Their ‘science’ begins when they first start collecting their own data, which is something like 100 years after humans first began affecting the quality of our waterways, including the flows and levels. SWFWMD says any information from before they started collecting their own data is not valid for their use. They do not attempt to go back historically and actually determine how high and clean and beautifully the water used to flow in the past, even though there is AMPLE evidence of the fact that our waters had degraded significantly before they began the collection of the data they use as their baseline for all their determinations. Consequently, they JUST DON’T KNOW what nature originally intended the rivers to look like and how the life along them evolved. This is only one example of many flaws I notice when asking SWFWMD employees how they do their studies. There are many others....

RobertRoscow

Until we understand why the palms on palm islands are dying off, it seems dangerous to further increase any withdrawals. Something is causing this to happen and it’s a recent occurrence. I’m near 70 years of age and not seen this before.
Also when you issue a permit can it be revoked? When I farmed I had a withdrawal permit from the lake that could be revoked during droughts. It seemed an indiotic permit since during a drought was when I needed the water. I don’t recall if lawn watering was also bannned or heavily restricted.
My biggest problem is with the concept. The withdrawals are coming from in essence the Aquifer. Springs and their resultant rivers or streams are direct discharges from the Aquifer not surface runoff. The permits allow the building of more homes essentially in Citrus County as there is little industry. Unlike a farm one cannot cut off their water supply. How do you reverse it if you are wrong? I have seen time lapse aerials of the well fields south of us with their cypress heads. Over time it was clearly visible that the cypress heads were drastically diminishing in size as the Aquifer was drawn down. I don’t believe they ever came back as that water was irretrievable. Why when there was such clear signs of irreversible environmental degradation that continued for years after blatant signs appeared was further permitting allowed? It must have been since they kept decreasing even though the permits issued far exceeded the recharge capacity of the Aquifer. You can’t permit for a very large several thousand home development with golf course(s) and then withdraw it once you see your science was wrong. I don’t know what the salinity levels are for snook are but the phosphorus levels for saw grass, the hallmark species of the Everglades, has been set as I recall for 10 ppb. The B is for billions not millions that is seen for instance for nitrate levels. I do not believe your science takes into account increased pollutant levels that come with development. If you are just looking at salinity there are other chemical levels that seem to be overlooked that directly increase with development and are unrelated to things like sea level rise. I believe you are vastly simplifying an extremely complex dynamic that is both from natural sources and man made ones.

Miuke Nelson

Gotta be ale to build those new subdivisions. Pesky environment!

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