One of the reasons it has been so difficult to keep the water of Crystal River clean is because the flow from the freshwater springs has been reduced. Fertilizer, stormwater runoff and septic tanks all contribute to the pollution of our water, but a reduced flow of water from the springs is at the heart of the problem.
That flow of water from our underground aquifer has been slowed because water withdrawals keep increasing to satisfy the growing population in Florida.
That is why it is absurd for local government to permit a private company from Ocala to pump an additional 177,300 gallons of water each day from a well in the city of Crystal River so then can meet consumer demand for bottled water.
Heatherwood Investments LLC, headed by Frank A. Scudder Sr., continues to fight the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the City of Crystal River and county government for a permit to ramp up production at property on NE 11th Street in Crystal River. The company claims it needs up to 254,000 gallons per day to meet its consumer demand.
The water sought by the bottled water company is coming directly from the flow of springs that now pump into places like Hunter Springs, Three Sisters Springs and the hundreds of other smaller springs along the coast.
Both the county and city have objected to the permit being expanded to allow the additional pumping. While SWFWMD officials might have their personal views about the resource, they have few options other than following the laws approved by the Florida Legislature.
The issue points out a statewide problem involving the use of water — our most valuable resource. Pumping fresh water near spring-fed Outstanding Florida Waterways that are on the environmental critical care list makes absolutely no sense and needs to be changed.
Millions of tax dollars are now being spent to clean up the mess in Crystal River and other Florida waterways at the same time the state has rules that permit water withdrawals that complicate the very problem. How does that make any sense?
Crystal River has other arguments against the expansion of this commercial enterprise that sits in the middle of a largely residential area. To transport the amount of water sought, the company would be using 48 tanker trucks six days a week to handle the withdrawal. That’s nearly 15,000 additional truck trips pounding the roads of Crystal River in a year.
The current transportation system will rapidly deteriorate if that is permitted.
Furthermore, there is evidence that arsenic has contaminated wells 3,143 feet away from the commercial property where the water is being withdrawn. The state was forced to help fund a central water expansion in 2016 to serve an area where the private wells serving 400 homes had become contaminated by arsenic, a chemical once widely used by cattle ranchers in the area.
Crystal River is doing the right thing in fighting this detrimental activity. At the same time, the Florida Legislature needs to look at the absurd laws that permit private companies to enrich themselves while depleting a public resource near an environmentally sensitive site. Water management districts should have the power to reject such permits.
How about at least creating some geographic boundaries that bar such activity around the most sensitive springs in our state?
We elect the people who create these laws that are not in the best interest of Floridians. It’s time to change the laws.
Crystal River and the county need to continue to fight this issue. The Florida Legislature needs to get on board and give the other branches of government the tools they need to be successful.