Standing Up for the Ichetucknee, by John Jopling
On Wednesday, May 28, I was privileged to be part of a large delegation of Ichetucknee Alliance members who took time out from busy schedules to travel to Tallahassee to testify in an administrative law hearing as part of the Alliance’s challenge to the minimum flows and levels (MFL) rule proposed by Florida’s Department of Environmental “Protection” (?).
The rule is intended to set MFLs for the Ichetucknee and Lower Santa Fe Rivers, in order to protect them from further loss of flow, and to assist in restoring these natural systems to healthy flow levels. In reality, the state, responding to pressure primarily from the big water utilities (especially Jacksonville’s JEA), modified the proposed rule to virtually guarantee that the largest consumers of our waters will continue the same consumptive use patterns (and worse) that have gotten us to the degraded state the Ichetucknee faces today.
The hearing continues through this week and a decision by the administrative judge may be weeks away. What was decided Wednesday was that the Ichetucknee Alliance, alone among the two challengers represented by Earthjustice, had legal standing to challenge the rule on behalf of the river and its springs. We were successful in large part because of the incredibly moving statements offered by 17 of our members (with two more attending on Thursday) who told the court what these springs and rivers mean to their lives and how they have been affected by the decline in the rivers’ health, which we have all witnessed.
One member testified that she moved to our area from New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. She wisely pointed that some natural disasters (like hurricanes) are unavoidable, but others – like the potential loss of these beautiful springs – can be prevented by determined action. She also pointed out that the loss of these springs through overpumping of the aquifer would affect all Floridians who depend on that same aquifer for their drinking water.
Every tax-paying Floridian should also understand that, arrayed against our little (but growing!) group, were a host of well-heeled lawyers, most of them compensated by taxpayers’ dollars, fighting desperately for a rule clearly designed to protect not these public water bodies but their largest consumers.
Whatever the outcome of this particular proceeding (and we remain cautiously optimistic), two facts are clear from yesterday’s proceedings:
- The fight to restore the Ichetucknee will be long and hard (and possibly expensive), but it is absolutely winnable – and we intend to win.
- The primary single entity now with legal recognition of its standing to speak on behalf of the Ichetucknee is the little ol’ Ichetucknee Alliance.
I am immensely proud that our small organization, just over a year old, is playing its part in this crucial effort. The old saying about “strength in numbers” certainly applies to this battle. We need to grow our membership. Those of you who love the Ichetucknee and want the next generations to have the chance to love it – join us. You can find out more about Ichetucknee Alliance, fill out a membership form and even pay your VERY reasonable membership fee at: ichetuckneealliance.org.