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Adena Springs water request still has big questions

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When your latest attempt at a huge water permit gets a smack down like the one delivered last Friday to Adena Springs Ranch by St. John’s River Water Management District (SJRWMD), one has to wonder if the actual message being sent is to abandon this (really bad) idea. To read the full response from SJRWMD’s Director of the Division of Regulatory Services, Michael A. Register, click here.

Adena Springs caused an uproar when it was disclosed in December, 2011 that the proposed massive ranch and slaughterhouse operation sought 13.2 million of gallons of water per day (mgd), an amount that exceeded the permitted withdrawal for the whole city of Ocala. They applied to SJRWMD for a consumptive use permit (CUP).

Following the public furor , Adena Springs agreed to reduce its original CUP request from over 13 mgd to 5.3 mgd. Since making the announcement in the Spring at a public meeting that Adena Springs management arranged and hosted, the permit has been given extensions several times. The latest extension gives Adena Springs until May 11, 2013 to respond.

The SJRWMD response is a mind-numbing 16 pages that details significant and often glaring flaws in the claims being made by Adena Springs. The District requested answers to 21 questions (pages 13-15), many of them quite substantial. This one (listed as “s.”) alone is a doozey:

Please describe how manure will be collected from heavy use areas (HUAs) like “concrete feedfaces” or “cooling pond paddocks.” Please describe how this manure will be applied to mechanically harvested pastures and indicate whether this is included in the nutrient balance calculations.

Apart from the stunning size of the CUP, the expected manure from the proposed operation has been a huge issue for environmentalists. Pollution of local waterways with nitrates, primarily from fertilizers and manure, has led to a recent Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) decision to reduce the nitrates levels at nearby iconic Silver Springs from over 1 milligram per liter (mg/L) to 0.35 mg/L. Activists complain that DEP’s target is still seven times the natural level. (A meeting next Wednesday afternoon ought to begin outlining approaches to addressing the nitrate problem – Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) meeting on January 23 at Marion County Growth Services office at 1pm.)

With the ranch expecting to graze around 15,000 head of cattle, and each one generating 100 lbs. of manure daily, like 750 tons daily, it is pretty crucial that Adena Springs have a comprehensive and effective plan that won’t impact waterways, including seepage into the aquifer. It appears from the district’s question that it is still a missing piece from their permit request.

Adena Springs managers have stated that their plan is to spread the manure as the cattle move on to other pasture, providing nitrates to help grow back the grasses. The effectiveness of this approach on this scale and the containment of negative environmental impact has always been doubtful.

The Adena Springs project is the latest venture by Canadian/Austrian billionaire Frank Stronach. Stronach made his fortune in auto parts, but has invested in many ventures, and had many notable failures. After sinking huge sums into horse breeding and horse racing in Florida, Stronach thinks that grass-fed beef is an untapped premium market since most western beef is grain fed in confined feed lots.

Dismissing critics who insist that Florida grasses and its sandy soil are inadequate for the size of the proposed operation, the plan is to remedy rainfall deficiencies outside of the rainy summer season with a massive center pivot irrigation operation (featured image above). Of course, this also requires massive water withdrawals, hence the giant CUP request.

One might hope that Stronach and Adena Springs managers would take a strong hint and back off this unsustainable and dangerous proposal. However, it is more likely that SJRWMD’s Michael Register and his bosses will be getting some heavy pressure from Tallahassee to ease up and help get this permit through in some fashion. It will be up to concerned local activists to remain vigilant and not let up in presenting countervailing pressure to stop this nonsense.

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