Approves water restrictions
HIGH SPRINGS – After a presentation by Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, on the quantity and quality of Florida’s water, the High Springs Commissioners, during Thursday’s meeting, passed on first reading an ordinance restricting the water usage in the city based on regulations put in place by the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD).
“High Springs is really the heartland of spring’s country, in terms of a city that’s right at the embarkation point to our springs,” Knight said. “I realize you don’t have direct authority over much of what happens at the springs, but you do have the ability to express the interests to the public.”
Due to low water levels, the SRWMD issued a Water Shortage Order for the first time in the history of the district that calls for residents within its jurisdiction to conserve water inside and outside. The order will be in effect until Sept. 30, and residents can restrict their water usage by limiting water waste, irrigating lawns only once a week and eliminating outside aesthetic uses for water, such as fountains.
“Just so you know, a water shortage order will not stop the decline of the hydrologic conditions. What it does is stop the rate of decline, so it’s a conservation measure,” said Steve Menace, representative from the SRWMD. “We’re still extremely dry, and we need all the assistance we can get.”
The water shortage order, which went into effect June 13, followed the Alachua County Department of Health’s announcement about recent algae growth in the Santa Fe River. With excessive water-pumping and the long-term drought, the river stopped flowing in some areas, such as at the High Springs boat ramp. With stagnant waters, the algae flourished.
The Santa Fe River winds through a nexus of the three water management districts, Knight said, including SWRMD, St. Johns Water Management District and Southwest Florida Water Management District. Along the Santa Fe River, approximately 36 springs and 10 siphons exist between River Rise and Cow Creek.
Based on estimates from the Florida Springs Institute, the Santa Fe Springs recharge area has shrunk by approximately one-third of its total area in the last couple decades because of pumping in the local area, Knight said.
“The flow in Poe Springs essentially stopped in the last week before this rain started,” he said. “That is unprecedented in the flow record for Poe Springs, which goes back to 1972.”
The other main problem with the Santa Fe River is a water quality problem, such as higher levels of nitrates. Nitrates come from urban and agricultural sources, such as fertilizers, wastewater treatment facilities and septic tanks.
According to Knight, the springs form the backbone of the economy in this region, producing an estimated $20 million in revenue per year. Floridians pour into the areas surrounding springs, purchasing food at restaurants, renting canoes, and staying in local hotels and bed and breakfasts, stated the Santa Fe River Springs Restoration Action Plan.
High Springs Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas made a motion asking Commissioner Sue Weller to draft a proclamation, based on examples from Florida Leaders on Water, to send to the SRWMD requesting the district increase the water conservation strategies. All five commissioners voted for the proclamation.
In addition to the conservation ordinance, High Spring’s commissioners considered the adoption of a septic system evaluation program. Barnas directed City Attorney Raymond Ivey to research other cities that had implemented the evaluation program. The motion passed three to two, with Mayor Dean Davis and Commissioner Linda Gestrin voting against it.
The program calls for septic tank owners in High Springs to have their systems evaluated every five years by a qualified contractor, which includes a pump-out, certification and evaluation of drain field and upkeep.
“If there’s a failure, you have to repair your systems up to the standards that are in place now,” said Anthony Dennis of the Alachua County Health Department.
In Alachua County, there are 30,000 septic tanks, and the county will discuss the issue on June 26. High Springs has approximately 1,639 tanks within city boundaries.
“We either opt out or support something, and I’m looking toward supporting something,” said Barnas. Weller agreed, stating that adopting this measure was just another step toward protecting the local environment.
But Davis disagreed, saying, “And I’m looking toward opting out.”
“Based on history, what’s going on so far is everyone that’s been given an option has opted out,” he said. “I happen to know that a septic tank will tell you if it ain’t working. It will quit, and then you will have to fix it. You won’t have a choice. We’re creating something else that has to be done.”
Knight said septic tanks may not be the biggest contributor to pollution, but they are a source of nitrogen. When there are so many tanks in such a small area, such as High Springs, it becomes a point source of nitrates going into the river. In Wakulla Springs, every new tank had to be a nitrogen-removal system, which is a step above the requirements imposed by the ordinance High Springs is considering.
This is a watered-down version of the Springs Protection Act, Knight said.
“Now we have the first opportunity for our city to make a statement on trying to stop pollution that’s leading to the destruction of our river, and we’re considering opting out?” said High Springs resident Paul Regensdorf. “I’m absolutely shocked.”
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