MFL Position Paper
Courtesy Dan Hilliard
The Withlacoochee Area Residents, Inc (WAR) has reviewed data provided by the SWFWMD (District)
via presentations and District online resources applicable to ongoing technical review of minimum
flows and levels (MFL) determination(s) as appropriate to three Springs Coast systems; the Weeki
Wachee, Chassahowitzka, Homosassa Rivers inclusive. The following commentary may be applicable to
other determinations in the region. WAR's response is generally global in nature although it
does , on certain points, present to specific river components within the framework of this review.
WAR is deeply appreciative of the District's commitment and the courtesy extended to
stakeholders in this very important review. The coastal springs and river courses which define this
region are of very high economic value. Indeed, they are all designated as Outstanding Florida
Waters (OFW(s)) and thus provided special protections by Florida Statute and Administrative Code.
Large components of the estuarine system these water bodies support are also identified as OFWs.
Numerous preserves or sanctuaries comprise a large portion of coastal estuaries and inshore waters
related to these river systems.
Such waters and other State coastal resources contributed in excess of $580 Billion dollars to
Florida's gross product according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Department)
2008 Integrated Water Quality Assessment (305b/303d). A narrower scope of review for economic
contribution of inland waters suggests amounts in the range of $20 Billion which we suspect to be
very conservative. Economic activities founded on such resources that define this region are of
critical importance to the public Health, Safety and Welfare.
WAR recognizes the legislative mandate that prompts the District's action concerning the
subject systems. We are mindful of the District's Areas of Responsibility (AOR), likewise
required by statute. Protection of the citizen's water resources is intrinsic to our future
prosperity. We are of the considered opinion the District has sufficient direction, latitude and
expertise to satisfy these requirements and protect the water resources under review. The debate
which has followed this process centers not on the need to be compliant with statute, but rather in
the fashion of doing so.
There are several issues put forth by Stakeholders in this process that will be addressed in the
- Reconciliation between technical review/draft recommendations with protection of Outstanding
- Water quality/habitat reduction impacts
- Analytical methodology/Data Quality
- Disparity between draft recommendations and Stakeholder recommendations.
Reconciling protection of OFW designated water bodies with impacts supported by the MFL
determination process revolves around interpretation of various provisions of statute and code.
Several Stakeholders have argued supremacy of the OFW provisions of Chapter 62-302.700 over Chapter
40D-8 FAC which establishes the framework for the District's approach to compliance with
Chapter 373.042 FS. We are of the understanding that certain legal processes exist to resolve
statutory conflict should it exist. As stated in Chapter 373 FS and understood to apply to scrutiny
of other regulatory provisions, one or more elements of statute or code may not render other such
In response to public input (Heyl to Tripp, 10/11) the District has stated:
"... the MFL statute requires that the MFL be established based on the impact of withdrawals
and there is no evidence that nitrate concentration is related to flow. " , and
"... management of nutrients, especially of anthropogenic origin, is not an MFL function."
On the first part, it is not clear such is the case. It is reasonable to conclude that most if
not all groundwater withdrawal which comes from a specific basin and contributes to reduced system
flow will in fact be returned to the basin via wastewater treatment processes (septic systems and/or
spray fields for treatment facilities), or by agricultural irrigation and lawn maintenance. In small
part, reduced system flow will contribute to increased loiter time in river systems and may
contribute to increased abundance of algae or other species responsive to nitrogen input. On a
broader scope, such water use will compound nutrient loads to spring head discharge. This contention
is clearly supported by discussion about water quality in the District's Homosassa River Peer
Review MFL Draft (2010). Primacy of total load or concentration is another debate but the end result
degrades the system.
On the second part, whether or not nutrient management considerations are part of the MFL
function is perhaps a District policy. Management of such issues may fall on other divisions of the
District than MFL staff, but investigation of these issues clearly falls within their purview.
Inasmuch as the District has reviewed water quality indices in these proceedings in significant
detail we conclude they are significant. Distinction between or exclusion of water quality metrics
in this process is not understood by this organization. We do recognize the intent of the MFL
process, but again, the definition of significant harm is the prevailing issue in this matter.
The District seeks to determine thresholds of significant harm in this process and rationalized
determination which directly contributes to quantifiable degradation of water bodies should be
examined. Analysis and projection of nutrient loading scenarios will contribute to greater strength
of the final recommendations.
For the sake of clarity, definition of the following words is provided to limit the scope of
meaning found in discussion of topical legal citations. Definition source is the Merriam-Webster
Dictionary, emphasis added.
Protect : transitive verb
1 a: to cover or shield from exposure, injury, damage , or destruction
: guard b: defend
1c <protect the goal>
2: to maintain the status or integrity of especially through financial or legal
guarantees: as a: to save from contingent financial loss b: to foster or shield
from infringement or restriction <salesmen with protected territories> <protect
one's rights>; specifically: to restrict competition for (as
domestic industries) by means of tariffs or trade controls
Permit : verb
Transitive verb: \per·mit·ted, per·mit·ting\
1: to consent to expressly or formally < permit access to records>
2: to give leave: authorize
3: to make possible <the design permits easy access>
1: to give an opportunity : allow
<if time permits >
Permit: noun \pər-‚mit’\
— per·mit·tee noun
— per·mit·ter noun
1: a written warrant or license granted by one having authority <a gun permit>
The Florida Constitution, ARTICLE II SECTION 7. Natural resources and scenic beauty. —
(a) It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and
scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution
and of excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources.
Some Stakeholders have taken the position that draft recommendations by the District for the
systems under review are inconsistent with Article II, Section 7 of the Constitution. Indeed,
Section 7 states clearly that natural resources are to be protected and water resources are central
to this debate. Though conceptually broad, this policy is not qualified by exception or specific
Chapter 40D-8 is applied by the District to the MFL process and attendant to the process is a
requirement for the District to define "significant harm" , due to the legislature's
failure to do so. The District has consistently applied an impact benchmark to definition of
significant harm such that no more than 15% of habitat in a given river system is degraded, and from
this comes philosophical divisions. The argument is simple: On one part there is a view of perceived
need to provide for potable water to support future development and on the other there is a desire
to protect intrinsically valuable resources on behalf of current citizens of the state.
Ch 373.042 (1)(a) stipulates not only that future water withdrawals not be harmful to water
resources, but to the ecology of a system as well. The latter is a primary source of contention in
this discussion inasmuch as numerous Stakeholders find the 15% standard applied in technical review
to be excessive on one hand, and on the other, nebulous in context of estuarine ecosystems.
Chapter 373.042 FS clearly requires the Department and Governing Board to consider, and at their
discretion, provide for protection of non-consumptive uses in this process. Such uses would
reasonably include the protection of Outstanding Florida Waters due to their economic value and the
value of ecological communities they support.
62-302.700(5) F.A.C. states "The Commission may designate a water of the State as a
Special Water after making a finding that the waters are of exceptional recreational or ecological
significance and a finding that the environmental, social, and economic benefits of the designation
outweigh the environmental, social, and economic costs."
In other words, the OFW designation means that Commission has determined that the benefit of
preserving these waters outweighs the cost of that preservation. This means that the District must
promote alternative water sources when it knows groundwater pumping in an OFW's springshed will
degrade the OFW. With the OFW designation, the Commission has determined that there is a societal
interest in preserving these waters that exceeds the economic cost. The District must
consider the OFW designation when defining "significant harm".
Reference is made to economic value of these resources several times in this discussion. This
issue is acutely in the thoughts of various Stakeholder groups and/or individuals. Not only do these
river systems provide great value to ecological communities associated with freshwater and estuarine
environments, they support very substantial economic activity. Citrus County 's economy in
particular is largely defined by such systems as the Homosassa River and Crystal River. A segment of
these economic activities includes residential and commercial development, eco-tourism, fishing,
photography, boating, hotels, restaurants, transportation and medical care. A recent article in the
Citrus Chronicle suggested between 75,000 and 100,000 visitors per year come to Crystal River for
the sole purpose of interaction with manatees. The catalyst for this activity is not derived from
analytical water quality summaries, but instead by the perception of clean waters (springs) and
abundant wildlife supported by their ambient water quality. We are aware that the visual gauge of
water quality is a matter of perception by the beholder, but much judgment is rendered on that
simple litmus. More important is the ecological communities supported by these waters. Upon the
simple visual litmus used by the public hangs the future of water based economies in the local
region. Hanging in the balance is tourism demand, and thus value. A very large component of tax roll
value for local governments is founded on water front properties, both residential and commercial.
These are resources worthy of protection. The District has not given consideration to this aspect of
the process even though empowered to do so because it has defined significant harm.
Another aspect of this consideration is found in the severe costs associated with implementation
of Chapter 40D-80 FAC or broader recovery/restoration actions as enumerated in Chapter 373 FS. The
plethora of impaired water bodies in the state and recovery plans already in place speak volumes
about the success Florida has had in management of the resource. We do not take this lightly, nor
belittle the task of restoring these waters, for it is surely daunting. It is however a hideously
expensive proposition which results from shortcomings of legislative policy and perhaps, in days
gone by, ignorance. The real cost is a blade with two sharp edges. On one hand is the cost of
restoration, and on the other, the costs of lost economic benefit across the broad scope which
otherwise accrues from the resource. We are relatively confident that the larger index rests with
the expense of lost benefit.
In Charlotte County v. SWFWMD, Case No. 94-5742RP 1997, Administrative Law Judge J. Stephen
Menton's decision stated, in part: "The establishment of minimum flows and levels does
not have to be based on precise historical averages. The statute seeks to prevent "significant"
harm to the water resources. Preventing any and all measurable impact to the water resources is not
the stated legislative goal and some impact is an unavoidable element of achieving beneficial use of
the water resources for human activity. Thus,the establishment of MFLs is highly infused with
policy considerations and requires a balancing of societal interest
in order to decide what impacts are significant." -Emphasis added-
The power to insert societal interest into the definition of ‘significant harm’ is
provided by the District's latitude in defining the term. Further, there is ample provision and
precedent found in statute, code and case history. As previously stated, the Department and
Governing Board are required to consider non-consumptive uses. Non-consumptive uses reasonably
encompass societal interest. By extension this authorizes economic impact analysis. Chapter 62-302.700
(4) (e) requires such analysis in the process of designating waters of the state as Outstanding
Florida Waters. We strongly suggest such review by the District is appropriate to this process.
We note that all of the systems under review are designated OFWs and each is on the Impaired
Waters List (303d). This differs from the Peer Review Draft for "Recommended Minimum Flows
for the Homosassa River", Leeper et al. 2010 discussion which references dated information
suggesting the Homosassa River was not on the 303d list. All coastal water bodies from Weeki Wachee
to the Withlacoochee River inclusive are so listed. We note that petitions and recommendations which
led to OFW designation for these systems enumerated broad arrays of productive ecological
communities which are dependent upon high quality waters. Water quality metrics for each of these
systems were evaluated and adopted as part of this process. These standards include nutrient values
for nitrogen/nitrate and phosphate. An example of both documents is found in the District's
Library for the Lower Withlacoochee River.
EPA 2010 303d Watershed Assessment, Tracking & Environmental Results
WATER QUALITY/HABITAT IMPACTS
Ch 62-302.700 FAC Special Protection, Outstanding Florida Waters, Outstanding
National Resource Waters.
"(1) It shall be the Department policy to afford the highest protection to
Outstanding Florida Waters and Outstanding National Resource Waters. No degradation of water
quality, other than that allowed in subsections 62-4.242(2) and (3), F.A.C., is to be
permitted in Outstanding Florida Waters and Outstanding National Resource Waters,
respectively, notwithstanding any other Department rules that allow water quality lowering."
It is clear that actions by the State or other parties may not sanction degradation of waters
designated as OFW other than under provisions of Ch62-4.242(2) and (3) FAC. The MFL determinations
underway do not directly impact water quality of these waters, but they do provide foundation for
future permit approval within defined parameters, and thus become part of a coordinated process
which establishes and promotes specific identified harm to these systems. It is often said by
officials of the Department and District that the agencies "regulate by permit". The
Department and District do not regulate all water use as a matter of policy and Rule. However, the
agencies have legal authority to act against non-permitted activities which impinge on water supply
and water quality, and they will do so with alacrity when appropriate. As surely as the people are
bound by these regulations, so too are the Department and District. It is not clear to this
organization the District has sufficient data for groundwater quality within each basin, or computer
models to evaluate and assure future water use permits will meet not only the public interest test
in the B.O.R., but standards in Chapter 62-302.700 FAC.
As a component of the citation above it is specified that no degradation of water quality is to
be permitted in OFWs . As indicated earlier in the definition, "permitted" is a transitive
verb, not a noun. The purpose of protecting water quality is to support existing ecologic
communities in these waters. Water quality in and of itself is an abstract with little meaning until
interaction with ecologic communities occurs. In the circumstances of the Springs Coast MFL
determination, the evaluation of water quality is in effect reduced to salinity modification by the
District and it is not clear this is conceptually appropriate technical review of the best available
data. Withdrawals of ground water from each basin to provide for public demand will, without doubt,
compound documented increasing nutrient load trends in the systems due to increased use of septic
systems; residential fertilizer use and/or waste treatment facility spray fields. This is a known
cause and effect relationship and should be examined as part of the definition of significant harm.
One component of water quality apparently not examined by the District in this process is sulfate
(SO4) concentrations. Natural background for SO4 in oceans of the world is in the range of 2,712 mg/l
(Stumm and Morgan, 1981). SO4 concentration varies as a ratio to salinity, ie. 2.7:35. Analytical
summaries submitted to FDEP Bureau of Mining and Mineral Resources for the area of Waccasassa Bay (Kincaid
2009) support a finding that natural background for SO4 in those waters has a mean value of 2130 mg/l.
SO4 concentrations are frequent water quality metrics for mining operations because of potential
environmental and ground water quality impacts offsite.
We note discussion in both the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa River MFL Drafts about breakpoints in
various taxa or benthic communities attributed to salinity. While the former indicated no
significant breakpoints, several were noted for the Homosassa River. From the executive summary of
the latter document:
"Flow reductions of 2.7 percent or less from median baseline conditions were associated
with fifteen percent reductions in predicted abundances of individual pseudo-species or taxa.
Similar or increased sensitivity to flow reductions was predicted for many taxa across the range of
baseline flows, in particular for baseline flows less than the median flows."
We characterize the discussion of disparity for this response in comparison to other findings in
the Draft as speculative or unexplained, and suggest the possibility that SO4 may be responsible in
part or whole. Further, it is not clear why these responses appear to have been set aside. The Draft
recommended threshold for significant harm is 5% flow reduction, approximately twice the value which
precipitated -15% predicted abundances as referenced above.
Chapter 62-40.473, F.A.C. provides additional guidance for the establishment of minimum flows and
levels, requiring that "consideration shall be given to the protection of water resources,
natural seasonal fluctuations in water flows, and environmental values associated with coastal,
estuarine, aquatic and wetland ecology, including: a) recreation in and on the water; b) fish
and wildlife habitats and the passage of fish; c) estuarine resources; d) transfer of
detrital material; e) maintenance of freshwater storage and supply; f) aesthetic and scenic
attributes; g) filtration and absorption of nutrients and other pollutants; h) sediment
loads; i) water quality; and j) navigation. "
Examination of the complexities of protecting estuarine resources is brought into sharp focus by
Dr. Estevez, Mote Marine: (A Review and Application of Literature Concerning Freshwater Flow
Management in Riverine Estuaries, 2000). Within the document it is stated:
"The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (1999) defined "indicator"
as a physical, biological or hydrological parameter used to represent a water body function. An
indicator should be simpler and easier to measure than a more inclusive assessment of water body
functions. For example ... "salinity may be measured as an indicator of the habitat functions
provided by an estuary. Predicting or measuring the change to ... salinity from changes in water
levels or flows is much simpler than attempting to directly measure changes in habitat use."
Worth (1998) recommended the establishment of a minimum suite of biological metrics for monitoring
that would be required as a basis for setting MFLs in estuaries.
Despite the Department's encouragement to use simple indicator criteria as proxies for
living resources, approaches taken to define significant or unacceptable harm turn back to criteria
that are strongly ecological in nature. A state "conventions subcommittee" writing on
impacts to natural systems proposed that significant harm occurs when, "anthropogenic
effects on hydrology that have caused, or are expected to cause, directly or indirectly, singly or
cumulatively, by their extensiveness, intensity, duration, or frequency, one or more of the
following for more than five years: 1) local or regional extirpation of one or more native species,
2) ... reduction in abundance or reproductive success of a listed ... species , 3) ... reduction in
abundance or reproductive success of a keystone species, 4) ... reduction in abundance or
reproductive success of a commercially or recreationally significant species, and 5) replacement of
the dominant species group of flora or fauna such that another species or group of species becomes
dominant or a significant increase occurs in the abundance or productivity of a nuisance, exotic, or
uncharacteristic species" (Lowe, 1994).
Although this definition has not been adopted by districts "due to concerns of
practicality in implementing such a broad definition" (Worth, 1998), it is the best
operationalized definition for harm to emerge on a statewide basis, to date. The definition might be
made less unworkably broad if constrained to a particular set of indicators drawn for living
resources and tailored to local conditions as needed in the case of estuaries."
We perceive that Dr. Estevez is generally supportive of Florida's MFL process, but his work
indicates that policy may often supersede science in this process. Whether the District has
subsequently adopted the broad definition described above is not clear, but the strong reliance upon
spatial dislocation of isohaline values in the current review gives pause. It is not clear that
Chapter 62-302.700 provisions provide for habitat modification, or in simpler terms, the inshore
dislocation of estuarine ecosystems at the expense of freshwater systems. In context of this
discussion it is assumed that although the District is guided by Chapter 40D FAC in its operations,
it is in fact a component of FDEP and as such obligated to conform to the same regulations as the
Department, i.e. Chapter 373 FS, Ch 403 FS, and Chapter 62 FAC. In fact Chapter 373.016 (5)
specifically allows the Department to delegate such authority to the District.
In conclusion to the referenced document, Dr. Estevez states (emphasis added):
"The question of freshwater inflows to riverine estuaries is a good scientific question,
as well as an important one for coastal resource management. Fresh water is an
integral part of the definition of an estuary and so deserves primacy in all aspects of estuarine
ecology, as a matter of first principles. Changes to inflows have harmed many
estuaries in the world, and have the potential to harm more . We seek to learn enough about estuaries
to restore damaged ones and protect natural ones, but to do so will require the development of
insights and tools not presently available."
Estuarine systems are highly sensitive to modifications of salinity. This is recognized by Dr.
Estevez in numerous works and by District Staff. Very slight spatial or temporal changes of salinity
can precipitate rapid modification of the affected system. Information provided by the District in
the Stakeholder discussions indicates a distinct disconnect, however, in that analysis of impacts
caused by reductions in system flow stand independent of those projected by sea level rise. Chapter
373.016 (2) requires both the Department and Governing Board take into account cumulative impacts on
water resources. District staff has advised the Stakeholders that withdrawals and sea level rise
have not been analyzed in such fashion (Stakeholders Conference 7-18-11). Lacking such review it is
not clear the Governing Board will render decision on the proposed rule(s) based on the best
WAR recognizes that forecasts of sea level rise (SLR) are based on historical record and in fact
the District has supplied data with three trend scenarios. "Implications of sea level rise
and wetland creation and management in Florida" - Estevez 1987 discusses such issues and
highlights not only impacts but management strategies. With that said, SLR forecast is somewhat
speculative, as are population growth forecasts. One suggests pending modification of ecologic
systems over the long term is likely, and the other projects demand for the resource which
ultimately leads to the consumption related impacts rationalized by this process. However, SLR is
projected at very slow rates, whereas growth is disproportionately quicker. Once water use permits
are issued, the District's ability to modify consumption authorization is severely constrained
by legal issues, regardless of consequences. Much groundwater withdrawal within the subject basins
does not fall within jurisdiction of the District such as residential wells. However, residential
and commercial development will certainly reinforce and compound the increasing trend of nutrient
loads to these water bodies. SLR and basin ground water withdrawals will each have characteristic
impacts and each is predictable and interrelated. Independent technical review of each aspect in a
standalone mode is of questionable value and possibly misleading. As such, we urge the District to
reconsider this matter and incorporate these components into cumulative impact analysis.
The District has expended substantial funds through contracts with qualified experts to generate
hydrodynamic models which examine impacts from both flow reductions and SLR. Lacking incorporation
into cumulative impact analysis, the purpose for which SLR was examined independently in these
hydrodynamic models remains unclear.
WAR finds in general terms the District staff has been diligent in this process. We recognize the
enormity of the task and dependency upon data sets which are sometimes sparsely populated. However,
questions have been raised by Stakeholders for both the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa Rivers which
1. It is our understanding that review of information related to impacts on blue crab populations
and species vitality in the region of the Chassahowitzka River estuary is inconclusive. The reason
for such adjudication is unclear, but a potential impact on the whooping crane population which
winters in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge is significant. Inasmuch as whooping cranes
are a listed species and to certain degree dependent upon vitality of the blue crab population, we
are of the opinion this element of technical review should be clarified. Information contained in
the FWCC document "Review of the Biology and Population Dynamics of the Blue Crab, Callinectes
sapidus, in Relation to Salinity and Freshwater Inflow" Crowley et al. 2011, presents
relevant discussion about estuarine salinity and species vitality.
2. The draft rules propose that withdrawals from the two basins will not cause significant harm
at reductions of 11% of flow for the Chassahowitzka River and 5% for the Homosassa River. We note
the disparity of these determinations as well as the inverse relationship to flow volume in
comparison of the two systems. Likewise the razor thin threshold between mean flow and significant
harm as defined by the District is extraordinarily narrow for the Homosassa River. We question
whether hydrodynamic models are sufficiently accurate to support such fine determination in the case
of the Homosassa River.
3. The volume of flow for the Chassahowitzka system is relatively low. There is indication of
long term substantial decline in system flow which the District suggests is a result of
corresponding reduction of rainfall in the historical record. Lack of flow related breakpoints are
presumed because the spring(s) discharge mildly saline water from undetermined sources and thus
there is no clear definition of fresh to saltwater conditions. The taking of ground water from the
basin at potentiometric elevations not contaminated with chlorides may exacerbate this circumstance.
The 11% reduction in flow recommended for this system in the Draft is a substantial portion of
current discharge, yet in terms of beneficial use up gradient, relatively small. In other words,
does the potential benefit outweigh specified harm?
4. Discussion of species abundance and response to reduced flows in the Drafts is not wholly
understood. It appears the analysis is in part posits a linear correlation between flows and
abundance. Where the confusion arises is whether or not the given species abundance responds as a
linear function of population base, or geometric function. Ecological communities are generally
prolific in reproduction as matters of necessity for most reviewed in these processes are building
blocks at or near the bottom of the food chain. Does loss of 15% of juveniles for a given species
predict a corresponding 15% of total population, or 20%? May we expect 30% population reductions, or
5. While recognizing findings by the Peer Review panel for the Homosassa River MFL determine it
consistent with statute and code, there are objections within that are somewhat critical. Specific
The first tier of comments/questions are based on extracted commentary from "SCIENTIFIC
REVIEW OF THE RECOMMENDED MINIMUM FLOWS FOR THE HOMOSASSA RIVER SYSTEM" - Hackney 2010
a. Question #1 - "Is the District's threshold of a maximum 15% change
of resource within the system a reasonable approach? Yes, while it may be somewhat
arbitrary, setting a quantifiable threshold provides a means to evaluate the impact that reductions
in discharge would have on fish and invertebrates, salinity-based habitats, and the extent of
thermal refuge for the Florida manatee. While reasonable, many of the r2 values were low (but
significant) and only positive relationships were examined. Both positive and negatives ones should
be examined if the goal is to not dramatically change the community structure of the entire system."
b. Question 2 - "Was there an adequate data base for development of the
regression model? Yes, the salinity, tide stage, and discharge records for gage
sites in the river and the salinity measurements made by SWFWMD and other agencies provided an
adequate data base for the empirical regression models developed to describe salinity in the main
channel of the Homosassa River. Yes, for most of the biological response measures (plankton,
fishes, and manatees). The benthic analysis was incomplete, however. There were also considerable
data sets for SAV and EAV that seemed to contradict each other."
c. Question 5 - "Was the data collection approach adequate to determine
the past and present natural resources on the river system? Yes, with respect to
flow, this approach is quite adequate to conclude that present-day spring and river discharges can
be considered baseline or natural flows [also, please see response to the next question concerning
water quality]. The approach assumed that present-day flow records were representative of past, or
baseline, conditions based largely on the determination using a numerical groundwater flow (Basso
2010) that groundwater pumping in the Northern District of SWFWMD has reduced historical spring
flows in the Homosassa River system by an insignificant amount (approximately 1 percent). With
respect to many natural components, the answer was no. There were some data for
SAV/EAV and water quality from earlier reports, but not much else besides those. Obtaining data on
past resources that are not considered of economic value is often difficult. Data collected as part
of the current MFL document will serve as a baseline for future modification of MFL evaluations."
WAR is of the opinion the underscored sentence above should end with ‘yes’.
d. Question 7 - "Was the weight of evidence enough to convince the panel
that the recommended MFL satisfied the Florida Statute establishing the MFL requirement? Generally, yes,
it would satisfy the statute, but because of the variability and low predictability of input data,
there could be problems with the accuracy of the predictions."
e. "We feel the District should take a multivariate approach as illustrated in their
analyses in the appendices using Primer statistics. The goal of the MFL process is to do no "significant
harm", which in many cases is a professional judgment call. The suggested multivariate approach
outlined at the end of this document (The sections on Chapters 4 & 5) would improve the ability
to make predictions of potential outcomes based on flow reductions. These outcomes would be more
holistic and at the heart of the MFL process."
It is not clear the District has followed or responded to this recommendation and clarification
is requested. Specific reference to the multivariate approach is found in "Chapters 4 & 5"
, pages 27-28 of the Peer Review.
Chassahowitzka MFL Peer Review - SCIENTIFIC REVIEW OF THE CHASSAHOWITZKA RIVER
SYSTEM RECOMMENDED MINIMUM FLOWS AND LEVELS - Powell et al 2010
"The Panel notes that reported chloride levels in the springs vary by an order of magnitude
(SWFWMD 2010, Table 2.5) suggesting that the ultimate origin of their water could be from very
different parts of the Floridan Aquifer. This concerns the Panel if modest changes in future aquifer
pumping rates can potentially alter the amount and proportion of salts discharged from these springs.
Unfortunately, the District's simple regression equation of river flow and water levels may
be too inaccurate during low flow periods to adequately address the potential contribution of saline
waters in spring discharges to the river. This means that the spring flow MFL may have to be
adjusted in the future as the District goes forward with its regional water management duties and
WAR suggests that such critique should prompt great caution in making this determination. The
Chassahowitzka River discharges directly into a National Wildlife Refuge. Chapter 62-302.700(9)(b)(4)
DISPARITY BETWEEN DRAFT AND STAKEHOLDER RECOMMENDATIONS
The District staff has recommended in draft form, reductions of flow in the subject systems of 11%
and 5% for Chassahowitzka and Homosassa Rivers respectively. Vocal Stakeholders have countered with
requests for no reductions for both systems. Central to this debate is the concept of "significant
harm" and degradation of Outstanding Florida Waters which are described by the State as having
great value beyond that of water supply. The District has presented findings based on best available
data, but questions stand about the quality and application of that information.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The District is compelled to develop these rules by Florida statute and administer mandated Areas
of Responsibility. One of these mandates requires the District to plan for water supply in the form
of 20 year plans. The Northern Region of the District's jurisdiction is located within a larger
area projected to be central to the state's next development boom (Wildlife 2060 - FWCC/1000
Friends of Florida, 2010). Notably, a great concentration of this development will occur in the
Springs Coast Region and I-75 corridor north of I-4. This is presented as a graphic form below.
The question arises then; will future water use permit applications within the subject basins
satisfy the public interest test found in the District's Basis of Review? The answer is not
clear and should be examined in the analytical processes under discussion.
Basis of Review (BOR)
3.2.3 Public Interest Test.
In determining whether a regulated activity located in, on, or over surface waters or
wetlands, is not contrary to the public interest or, if such an activity significantly degrades or
is within an Outstanding Florida Water, that the regulated activity is clearly in the public
interest, the District shall consider and balance, and an applicant must address, the following
- Whether the regulated activity will adversely affect the public health, safety,
or welfare or the property of others;
- Whether the regulated activity will adversely affect the conservation of fish and
wildlife, including endangered or threatened species, or their habitats;
- Whether the regulated activity will adversely affect navigation or the flow of water
or cause harmful erosion or shoaling;
- Whether the regulated activity will adversely affect the fishing or recreational
values or marine productivity in the vicinity of the activity;
- Whether the regulated activity will be of a temporary or permanent nature;
- Whether the regulated activity will adversely affect or will enhance significant
historical and archaeological resources under the provisions of section 267.061, F.S.; and
- The current condition and relative value of functions being performed by areas
affected by the proposed regulated activity.
In very general terms we estimate the limits of water supply supported by the Drafts will allow
for the withdrawal of about 11,000,000 GPD and support a per capita consumption of 150 GPD for about
79,000 residents. This represents about 54% of the current Citrus County population. In context of
current state population estimates, neither the supply nor demand is truly significant. The
preceding graphic (pg 9) projects population growth and regional density over the next 50 years, a
parameter which greatly exceeds statutory requirements for water planning, but at the same time
illustrates the severe regional demands expected on the resource. Population in Florida has
increased about eightfold since 1950 and it is not unreasonable to expect another doubling over the
next 50 years. If past is prologue, such speculation may be conservative in the extreme. The next
questions: Will the stipulated degradation of the Springs Coast Rivers provide adequate supply for
this growth and is it rational from an economic perspective? WAR is at best, skeptical on both
While conceptually supportive of the requirement for MFL rules for Florida water bodies, there
remains an open question about what constitutes "significant harm". The peer reviews for
both Chassahowitzka and Homosassa Rivers describe the 15% of harm litmus as arbitrary or somewhat
arbitrary. Peer review panels for both drafts have found the Drafts consistent with statute, yet
provided technical criticism on the basis that natural systems could be better protected with
revisions of process. It is our opinion this criticism should be taken to heart by the District and
protection of the resource(s) be established as a first priority for economic reasons. It is not
required that the District rationalize withdrawals in every MFL determination. Each of these systems
has been degraded over long periods of time, and more recently they have all been designated as
impaired waters despite fairly recent designation as OFWs. In fact the District has the authority to
initiate a recovery action plan as a first determination.
WAR contends the District has latitude to evaluate this rule with the addition of economic impact
analysis and recommends the District do so. Such constraints are required by statute to designate
water bodies as OFW and it is illogical to degrade these systems without comprehensive analysis. The
legal basis for doing so is found in the act of defining "significant harm" by the
District, this in lieu of statutory definition. We recommend the District incorporate economic
analysis in this process for these systems, and also reconcile the rule with statutory provisions
related to Outstanding Florida Waters.
There is no question whatsoever that subsequent issuance of water use permits to support
residential or commercial development will contribute to increased nutrient loads at springs in the
respective basins. This will occur without the development of the rule of course, but the potential
for regulating such impacts by implementation of the rule is greater if such considerations
are incorporated. It is not clear the District has the technical data base to evaluate such
impacts on a case by case basis. If a basin supply is regulated simply as a single source it is
imperative the outflow nutrient loads be analyzed. Otherwise a circumstance clearly exists that
state issued permits will contribute to degradation of OFW. WAR recommends technical evaluation of
this issue as a component of the definition of significant harm. A reasonable benchmark for such
evaluation would exist in comparison between zero withdrawal and Draft suggested withdrawal limits
of ground water in each basin.
WAR concludes that Stakeholders requests for 0% flow reduction recommendations for these reviews
are justified due to questions and methodology related to the definition of significant harm.
District staff has stated repeatedly that future review of these determinations may lead to
modification of the rule. We are of the opinion such modification may allow for increased or
decreased minimum flow authorizations. Proactive protection is cheaper than retroactive
restoration. Credible objections exist and the process can be improved. Until such time as questions
and/or recommendations by Peer Review Panels and Stakeholders are fully addressed, and deeper
understanding of the nature of these systems is established, we respectfully do not find the present "best
available data" sufficient to make a determination otherwise without putting extraordinarily
valuable resources at risk.
Lastly, in this process we suggest the over-arching priority for implementation of the Rule(s)
should be fidelity to the residents of the District's jurisdiction, who along with the balance
of the State's populace are joint owners of the resource. Growth is certain and the District is
compelled to plan for that eventuality. However, the degree to which growth occurs is somewhat
speculative and uncertain. Robust and plentiful alternative water supply sources exist and in some
cases have been adopted by regional water supply authorities for long range planning purposes.
Florida's water resources are finite and we urge all parties to pursue economies of efficiency,
alternative supplies and management philosophy intent on preserving the quality of our most valuable
resource. Thank you for your review of our position on this very important matter.