February 2013-February 2014
On February 9, 2013, a group of 25 concerned local citizens from Columbia County and nearby areas met at the Fort White Library to hear presentations about declining water quality and quantity in the Ichetucknee River and its associated springs (collectively referred to as the Ichetucknee River System).
Speakers were Jim Stevenson, retired chief biologist with the Florida Park Service, and Dr. Robert L. Knight, president of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute. Jacqui Sulek, chapter conservation manager for Audubon Florida, facilitated.
Attendees learned that the river has lost a percentage of its historic flow and that nitrate pollution has increased. We also learned about the dissolution of the Ichetucknee Springs Basin Working Group following budget cuts by the governor and state legislature in 2011.
After that exploratory meeting, we decided to form The Ichetucknee Alliance because of our concerns about serious threats to the health of the river system and our desire to provide a strong advocate voice for the river and springs.
On March 14, the Alliance filed Articles of Incorporation as a nonprofit with the State of Florida. The incorporators were John Jopling, Jacqui Sulek, Lucinda Merritt, Terri Skiles, and Charles Maxwell. On March 30, the first slate of directors and officers was elected unanimously: John Jopling, president; Jacqui Sulek, vice president; Terri Skiles, treasurer; Megan Olson, secretary; Charles Maxwell, historian; Bob Knight; and Cathy Street.
The Alliance applied for federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit status one year after the organizational meeting, in March 2014.
Vision & Goals
The Alliance’s vision is for “a healthy Ichetucknee River System that is preserved and protected for future generations.”
The goal of the Ichetucknee Alliance is to ensure the restoration, preservation, and protection for future generations of the ecosystems along the full 5.5-mile length of the Ichetucknee River, including all its associated springs.
In July and August, board members met to refine a list of major activities for our first year of operation that included:
- Organizing a public event to introduce the Alliance to the community.
- Taking a stand on minimum flows and levels (MFLs).
- Advocating for a proposed natural gas pipeline to be moved away from the Ichetucknee.
- Developing effective public presentations.
- Creating a science team for water monitoring and data collection.
First Year’s Projects & Actions Taken
Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs)
The Suwannee River Water Management District SRWMD worked throughout 2013 and into 2014 to set state-required minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for the Ichetucknee and Lower Santa Fe Rivers. Since the Ichetucknee is a tributary of the Santa Fe, the district’s MFL process considered both rivers.
In letters to SRWMD Executive Director Ann Shortelle on June 24 and December 16, 2013, President John Jopling detailed the Alliance’s position on MFLs for the Ichetucknee. The Alliance advocates for MFLs that ensure a flow rate of 350 cubic feet per second, the historical rate.
Jopling’s letter of December 16 also raises other issues. The letter:
- Questions the process used by the district to set the MFLs.
- Advocates for use of the Precautionary or Conservative Principle in situations where scientific data is unclear and/or disputed.
- Raises the ethical question of whether our generation has the right to deprive future generations of the benefits of natural systems, such as the Ichetucknee, that have existed for thousands of years.
- Expresses concerns about the track record of MFL enforcement in Florida.
- Concludes by stating our willingness to work with the SRWMD on a recovery plan for the Ichetucknee.
You may read both letters, as well as other documents concerning the MFLs, here:
Proposed Florida Power & Light (FPL)/Sabal Trail Natural Gas Pipeline Route
In the summer of 2013, the Alliance learned that the route of a new natural gas pipeline from Alabama was proposed to cross the Ichetucknee River. Concerned that such a route had the potential to cause irreparable harm the river and springs, the Alliance—along with many other groups and individuals in our area—took a firm position against that particular route and began communicating with FPL to express its concerns.
On August 30, Alliance President John Jopling received verbal assurances from a representative of FPL that the pipeline would not cross the Ichetucknee. Jopling posted notice to that effect on the Alliance’s Facebook page.
The Alliance remains vigilant, however, should unforeseen circumstances result in another route shift. Merritt submitted comments on behalf of the Alliance to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on December 17.
You may read the Alliance’s original position paper on the pipeline and the slightly revised comments to FERC here:
While the upper part of the Ichetucknee River that lies within Ichetucknee Springs State Park (ISSP) has been monitored for a number of years, there are large data gaps for the Lower Ichetucknee—the part of the river that lies outside the state park.
With guidance from Knight and seed money assistance for equipment from a grant that had been obtained by Sulek from the Wildlife Foundation of Florida through their Tag Grant program, the Alliance began a Springs Watch project that involves monthly monitoring of the Lower Ichetucknee to collect data on dissolved oxygen (an indicator of the age of the water), photosynthetically active radiation (a measure of water clarity), and specific conductivity (which can give information about the sources of water in the river).
Board members and volunteers attended training for Springs Watch on May 29 at Wetland Solutions in Gainesville. On July 12, directors and volunteers conducted the first Springs Watch monitoring of the Lower Ichetucknee. Monitoring continues each month and new volunteers are welcome.
See the articles about Springs Watch activities under “Current Projects” on our website at:
Manatee Sighting Data Collection
Following a suggestion from Jim Stevenson, who is concerned that there are data gaps in information being collected about manatee sightings on the Ichetucknee and Lower Santa Fe Rivers, the Alliance put out a call for a volunteer to work with Stevenson, ISSP staff, and staff of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to track manatee sightings on the two rivers.
We are fortunate that Lars Andersen of Adventure Outpost in High Springs—a river guide, outfitter, and writer—has volunteered to gather information on manatee sightings. Andersen is looking for information about past sightings as well as future sightings and the Alliance encourages you to contact him with relevant information; see his article under “Current Projects” on our website at: http://ichetuckneealliance.org/projects/.
Data will be provided to the Suwannee River Water Management District for future reviews of the MFLs for the Lower Santa Fe and Ichetucknee Rivers and associated springs.
Website & Facebook Page Creation
The Ichetucknee Alliance’s website, http://ichetuckneealliance.org, was launched on WordPress on June 15, with much-appreciated help from artist and graphic designer Stewart Thomas of Palmstone Studios in Gainesville. John Jopling, the Alliance’s president, penned the first blog entry, “Promises to Keep.”
Also in June, the Alliance launched a group page on Facebook.
In July, the Alliance endorsed the Florida Water and Land Legacy Campaign’s effort to place on the 2014 ballot a constitutional amendment that would provide a dedicated source of funding for water and land conservation purchases.
In December, the Alliance endorsed the Floridians’ Clean Water Declaration Campaign. That campaign seeks signatures to demonstrate to our water managers and elected officials that the people of Florida want clean water and should be working together in good faith to stop pollution at its source.
Press Releases and Press Coverage
The Alliance issued its first press release, “Ichetucknee Alliance Calls for Restoration of the Springs and River,” on June 24. See: http://ichetuckneealliance.org/press-releases/
June 24, 2013: Article by Karl Burkhardt, “Ichetucknee Alliance Inc. formed to fill the void left by the dissolution of Florida Leaders Organized for Water,” was published in the Lake City Journal.
July 31, 2013: John Jopling’s letter, “Thanks for supporting spray field project,” was published in the Lake City Reporter.
September 1, 2013: John Jopling was quoted in “Mid-Course Correction,” an article about the FPL/Sabal Trail pipeline that appeared on page 1 of the Lake City Reporter.
January 16, 2013: John Jopling’s letter, “Proposed MFLs inadequate,” was published in the Lake City Reporter.
A River of Thanks to Our Charter Members!
David M. & Tami Delaney
Nicole & Steven Earl
Karen Glaser & John Stranick
Jane P. Gray
Judy & Don Hagg
Bruce & Sue Karcher
Dr. Robert (Bob) Knight
Lucinda Faulkner Merritt
Judith Jopling Sayre & Jerry Sayre
W. David Shoup
Jim & Ruby Tatum