Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper testified this week at a public meeting in Chipley, Florida on behalf of good water management and protection of the Bay and Washington County Sandhill Lakes Region. This area was one of Audubon’s first nominees for the Florida’s Special Places campaign and is home to many endemic and imperiled species tied to the area’s springs, karst lakes, bogs, seeps, steephead ravines and streams.
Draper spoke about the improper use of the legislatively created Alternative Water Supply Source funds by the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD) to promote use of an inland well field, opposite of the program’s legislative intent (see statute). The fund was created to assist utilities in reducing ecological harm caused by poorly sited and regulated well fields.
The NWFWMD and Bay County did not demonstrate the necessary support for their requested need for an additional water supply from underneath the rare karst lakes of the Sandhills during the just-completed administrative law hearing in Tallahassee, a hearing that was brought by a challenge from independent citizens, rural Washington County, and a large landowner seeking to protect area-wide lakes and citizens’ rights.
At this week’s meeting in Chipley, more than 30 local residents from both Bay and Washington County spoke to the judge in unanimous opposition to the well field permit. The permit challenge is now up for consideration and a recommended order by Administrative Law Judge David Maloney.
Local citizens and landowners are also hoping this unusual water supply permit challenge will compel Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) managers and NWFWMD board members to require the establishment of Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs) for critical springsheds and rivers basins.
Unlike all of Florida’s other Water Management Districts, the NWFWMD has not established MFLs for these important ecosystems. Audubon believes it is important to scientifically understand both ground and surface water’s regional status and conditions before considering major well fields in NW Florida.