EUSTIS, Fla., April 11, 2017 -- The St. Johns River Water Management District's Governing Board on Tuesday approved completing the rulemaking process to set minimum flows and levels for Silver Springs in Marion County, defining a protective limit on the amount of available water beyond which further groundwater withdrawals would be significantly harmful to Silver Springs. Florida Statutes require the adoption of minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for Silver Springs and other Outstanding Florida Springs by July 1, 2017.
"Silver Springs is a wonderful natural feature of Florida's environment. The uniqueness of our springs is important to those of us who love Florida, as well as to the regional economy," said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. "Our primary goal in setting minimum flows and levels for Silver Springs is to ensure its long-term protection from groundwater pumping while ensuring there is water available for public uses. Setting MFLs is some of the most complex work we do, and we have learned a great deal about what is causing reduced spring flow in this system. We are committed to continuing to increase our understanding of these springs and the Floridan aquifer system and protect them through appropriate strategies and projects."
The board approved the adoption of the Silver Springs MFLs through emergency rulemaking to ensure the MFLs are adopted by the statutory deadline of July 1.
MFLs do not protect against rainfall deficits or other natural phenomena. MFLs also do not protect against excessive nutrient loading or other changes to the system not caused by water withdrawals. Rather, MFLs are one of many tools used by the district to assist in making sound water management decisions and prevent significant adverse impacts due to water withdrawals. MFLs address whether a water body's current flow or water level is sufficient to protect water quality, habitat and fish passage, recreation, freshwater storage and supply, and other environmental values.
Last year Silver Springs was designated as an Outstanding Florida Spring. Silver Springs is a first magnitude spring and Florida's largest freshwater spring, as well as likely being the largest limestone spring in the United States.
To ensure that the MFL is doing its job, the Silver Springs MFL will be reevaluated within 10 years, since the understanding of flow regime dynamics will continue to improve. Also, to monitor the status of an adopted MFL, a screening level analysis will be performed approximately every five years, as well as when permit applications are considered that may impact an MFL.
While the MFLs are currently being achieved, based upon current water use projections, groundwater pumping would cause the MFLs to no longer be met in approximately 2025. The board approved a prevention strategy to develop additional water supplies, increase water conservation and implement other regulatory actions, to ensure that water withdrawals will not cause the flow to fall below the established MFL.
Other board actions related to the completion of the statutory requirement to adopt MFLs for Silver Springs by July 1 included the approval of the Fifth Addendum to the 2005 District Water Supply Plan to include water supply development and water resource development projects identified in the prevention strategy; and the approval of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which shares a portion of Marion County.
For details on the Silver Springs MFLs and prevention strategy, visit the district's webpage at www.sjrwmd.com/facts/SilverSpringsMFL.html.