The Southwest Florida Water Management District's Governing Board recently approved minimum flows (or MFLs) for the Rainbow River and the Crystal River/Kings Bay systems. A minimum flow is the limit at which withdrawals will cause significant harm.
Some recent guest columns and letters to the editor have suggested the water management district arbitrarily sets these limits and offers a "blank check" to pump unlimited amounts of water out of the aquifer. In fact, MFLs are an important tool that provide additional protection for water resources by placing caps on withdrawals. MFLs do not authorize withdrawals. Anyone wanting to withdraw water must still go through the water-use permitting process. The MFL is an added protection to that process.
Our district scientists have been studying waterways for more than 30 years. We follow where the science leads without any presumption of what the outcome will be. The science and consistent approach used by district experts to set MFLs have been supported by nearly 20 independent peer review panels composed of other scientific experts.
Each of the major spring systems in our district is unique and each one is experiencing impacts from various causes. Scientific data show the impacts to water quality are unrelated to groundwater withdrawals. Water quality impacts are attributed to several factors including septic tanks, storm water and urban/residential fertilizer.
We are addressing the problems with Crystal River/Kings Bay and all of the major springs systems in our region. We have worked with a diverse group of stakeholders including local governments, state agencies, environmental organizations, public suppliers, agriculturalists and others to develop individualized plans for each spring. The plans identify the issues, causes, quantifiable objectives, helpful management actions, ongoing projects and proposed projects to help protect and restore these important water resources.
It's understandable that people are concerned about these incredibly wonderful natural systems. They need our help. But they won't get better unless we focus and attack the real causes of the problems. I encourage anyone who is interested in protecting our water resources to get informed, get involved and get engaged in protecting our springs. You can find more information about the individual spring plans and other springs data on our website at WaterMatters.org/springs.
Brian J. Armstrong is the executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.