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Jul 26 12

Coalition Prevails in Fight Against Proposed Well Field

by Save Sand Hill Lakes

Administrative Law Judge Rules Bay County Failed to Prove Need to Draw Millions of Gallons of Water a Day

Contact: April Salter 850-508-7040
July 26, 2012

Tallahassee–A state of Florida administrative law judge today recommended denial of Bay County’s request to pump up to 30 million gallons of water a day from a well field located in northern Bay County on the Washington County line. The ruling comes two years after a legal battle arose over the Northwest Florida Water Management District’s decision to grant Bay County a 20-year permit to operate a well field that would have drawn water needed to maintain hundreds of lakes and springs in the environmentally sensitive Sand Hill Lakes region.

The Coalition to Save Sand Hill Lakes was formed to oppose the proposed well field and is made up of more than 500 landowners and environmental groups in and around Bay and Washington counties.

The judge concluded that “it is not in the public interest for Bay County to operate the well field.” The judge found that Bay County’s data was “inadequate to determine that the area’s natural systems would not be significantly affected,” and that this “failure to show what the impacts will be to the natural systems of extraordinary ecological and environmental quality is weighty when balanced against a need that does not exist and many never arise.”

Eric Draper, president of Florida Audubon and a member of the Coalition, said, “Bay County’s 30-million-gallons-a-day well field threatened one of the most environmentally important areas in Northwest Florida. The well field, if approved, would have harmed lakes in the pristine Sand Hill Lakes region. Audubon considers the Sand Hill Lakes region one of Florida’s ‘Special Places’ because its crystal clear water has been protected from development and it harbors diversity of wildlife.”

Doug Manson, lead counsel for Northern Trust, one of the petitioners in the lawsuit, said, “This is a very happy day for the landowners in the Sand Hill Lakes region. We believe the judge’s findings of fact will put this issue to rest and that the citizens of the Sand Hill Lakes region can be assured that their already stressed lakes will not be further harmed by pumping from the proposed well field. We are pleased that the judge agreed with us that the county had not shown the need for the well field and recognized the potential for significant environmental harm.”
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Oct 17 11

Hearing on Bay County wells ends

by Save Sand Hill Lakes

October 13, 2011 08:10:12 PM

Read more:

VERNON — In the last few years, James Zediker said seven wells in his neighborhood have gone dry because of development and required redrilling.

If Bay County’s proposed water wellfield goes in near the Washington County border, Zediker said he is worried the water table will drop further and the number of dry wells will be in the thousands.

“There’s a lot of people in Washington County that can’t afford a new well,” he said.
The hearing has ended, but a decision is a long way off and people in Washington County are restless to have a resolution to their challenge of Bay County’s proposed well field.

Several dozen people gathered at Vernon City Hall on Thursday evening to hear an update on the challenge to Bay County’s consumptive use permit application for 10 wells near the Washington County border. The challenge was filed by Washington County, the Knight family trust and two residents. The administrative hearing to decide the challenge has been heard by Judge David Maloney in Tallahassee over the last few weeks and concluded on Tuesday. Maloney has ordered attorneys for both sides to submit proposed recommended orders, similar to written closing statements, 50 days from the release of official transcripts.

Washington County attorney John Thomas said a ruling might not come for another six months.

Thomas summarized the events of the three-week hearing for interested residents.

“Good experts were put on by both sides,” he said. “In the end we don’t think they showed the need for 5 million gallons per day, or the need for 30 million gallons per day.”

The only rationale Thomas said he could find for the 5 million gallons per day number was a Bay County calculation that is the amount of pumping required for the wells to pay for themselves. Experts for the challengers said only a 66,000 gallon per day withdrawal would be necessary to maintain the well field during a non-emergency.

Though the permit would limit Bay County to a withdrawal of water to an average of 5 million gallons per day, not to exceed 30 million gallons per day for more than 52 days, Washington County residents have expressed concern about sinkholes, a drawdown of the Sand Hills lakes, and the drying of wells. Modeling commissioned by Washington County shows a potential drawdown of 1.5 feet, which Thomas said demonstrated a worst case scenario.

“This withdrawal could affect the lakes, that’s what our experts were trying to predict is how this will affect the lakes,” he said. “We don’t know what they will do, we only know what they are allowed to do.”

Residents expressed concern about the location of wells and the disproportionate effect it could potentially have on Washington County. Several asked for guarantees if they experience a negative impact.

Some suggested a nefarious link between Bay County and St. Joe Co., which owns the property for the proposed well field, and the proposed development of West Bay.

Residents were encouraged to vocalize their concerns at a public hearing attended by Maloney and the Northwest Florida Water Management District from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Washington County Board Room at 1331 South Blvd. in Chipley.

Oct 10 11

Trial over water wells nears conclusion

by Save Sand Hill Lakes

October 09, 2011 3:04 PM

TALLAHASSEE — Ambiguities surrounding new legislation have been resolved and the administrative hearing on Bay County’s proposed well field near the Washington County line is proceeding smoothly and expected to conclude the middle to the end of this week.

The Knight family trust, Washington County along with James Murfee and Lee Lapensohn have filed to intervene in the issuance of a consumptive use permit from the Northwest Florida Water Management District to Bay County that would allow the drilling of 10 potable water wells on the northern fringes of Bay County as a back up water supply.

The hearing has been ongoing in Judge David Maloney’s courtroom at the Department of Administrative Hearings since Sept. 19. It is the longest proceeding of its kind that Bay County has been involved in, assistant county manager Dan Shaw said.

Modeling, hydrology and environmental experts have been called by both sides as they try to prove their case. Bay County has argued the back up water source would be critical in the event Deer Point Lake is contaminated either by pollution or saltwater intrusion in the event of a hurricane and it would have minimal effects on the environment. The challengers argue Deer Point Lake is a more than adequate water source and the wells would cause considerable damage to the environment and decrease surrounding property values.

The county is not even using half of the water it is permitted to draw from Deer Point Lake, Knight family trust attorney Douglas Manson said. And while the challengers are not contending Bay County might have a need for a back up water supply, Manson said the permitted withdrawals of an average of 5 million gallons per day outside of an emergency is too much. Manson put on an expert who said the well field could be operated with a daily draw of 66,000 gallons of water.

Previously unidentified species have also been found in the wetlands that could be affected by the wells, Manson said.

While the challengers are asking for the permit to be blocked in its entirety, Judge Maloney has the option to award the permit with modifications, Manson said.

Bay County and the water management district are currently rebutting the presentation made by the challengers, and with the added help of a new law that moves the burden of proof from the permit applicant to the protester, Shaw said he thinks the hearing is going well.

“We’re doing a good job getting our point across,” he said. “…The amount we’re asking to take is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of (the water) that comes into the watershed.”

The application restricts water pumping to an average of 5 million gallons per day, not to exceed 30 million gallons for a length of more than 52 days.

Maloney is scheduled to attend a public hearing on the water wells case on Oct. 18 in Chipley to allow the citizens to tell him their concerns directly. The Save Sand Hill Lakes Coalition will also have a meeting in Vernon on Thursday to update residents on the hearing.

When the hearing concludes, a ruling is still not expected for several months, and then it will likely be appealed and probably end up in the state Supreme Court, Shaw said.

With the hurricane season coming to a close, Shaw said the likelihood of needing the back up well supply is dwindling for this year, but he does worry about the potential effects of the field being delayed in litigation.

“All it’s going to take is one good one. … and people get crazy when there is no water,” he said.

Sep 20 11

Water wells hearing starts slowly

by Save Sand Hill Lakes

September 19, 2011 08:01:00 PM


TALLAHASSEE — The opening day of an administrative hearing challenging Bay County well permits was plagued by legal ambiguity that slowed proceedings and seems destined to take the case to an appellate court.

Bay County’s application for 10 potable water wells to be drilled along the Washington County border is being challenged by Washington County, the Knight family trust and pro se petitioners James Murphy and Lee Lapenshon. According to Bay County officials, the wells are necessary as a backup water supply if Deer Point Lake was somehow contaminated, which is possible in the event of saltwater intrusion from a hurricane or chemical spills, either from the road over the dam or from nearby train tracks. The opponents have argued Bay County has not demonstrated sufficient need for the wells they fear would draw down the groundwater supply along with the Floridan Aquifer, damaging the environment and decreasing property values.

The case is the first challenge to be heard at Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee under legislation that went into effect July 1. The new rules shift the burden of proof of environmental impact, or lack thereof, from the applicant to the challenger.

However, the new rules left the door open for a disagreement about the number of rebuttals and witnesses allowed during the hearing. It was a disagreement Judge David Maloney the judge suggested would have to be resolved at the appellate level.

Opening statements

Despite the back and forth, both sides did give opening statements Monday and assistant utilities director Paul Lackemacher took the stand. The day’s proceedings ended during Lackemacher’s cross-examination by Brian Bolves, representing the petitioners.

While no one argues Deer Point Lake will sufficiently meet the potable water demands of Bay County for many years to come, Kenneth Oertel, representing Bay County, outlined the possible dangers of an above-ground water source.

In the 1970s, a train derailed in the area of the lake, releasing chlorine gas. While the gas did not harm the water supply, trains that follow the same tracks carry chemicals that have the potential to cause such contamination, Lackemacher said. Storm surges from tropical storms or hurricanes also could breach the dam and cause saltwater intrusion that could put the reservoir out of commission. During Hurricane Opal, the reservoir was contaminated by saltwater and though levels never exceeded the standards for potable water, it took more than 20 days to flush the intrusion out, Lackemacher said.

“They have decided this risk is unacceptable to Bay County utilities and its customers,” Oertel said.

Officials added that Bay County supplies water for surrounding municipalities, including two hospitals, two military installations and other entities whose operations would be crucial in the event of an emergency.

Though Bay County consistently has said the water supply would be used only in an emergency, such a stipulation is nowhere to be found in the permit application, Bolves pointed out. The application only states water withdrawals would be limited to an average of 5 million gallons per day, not to exceed 30 million gallons for a length of more than 52 days.

On cross-examination, Lackemacher said the 30 million gallons per day was based on his “knowledge and experience” and admitted he wanted to get every gallon of water possible. Bay County has an average daily water usage of 24.5 million gallons per day with a peak of 40 million gallons per day, but Bolves pointed out the 30 million gallons per day permit request fails to factor out the potential for storm evacuations and the curtailing of nonessential water use as a means of curbing water demands.

John Thomas, an attorney for Washington County, called the permit application an exercise in “water banking” and represented an attempt of Bay County to secure a water supply that could feed projected growth in the West Bay area, which was expected to grow much faster than it has to date.

“If a party is allowed to lock up the rights to water, it interferes with the right of other users that might come along later,” Thomas said.

The placement of the wells along the border ensures nearly all the adverse effects, including receding water levels at area lakes and the potential for sinkholes, would be almost exclusively in Washington County, Thomas said.

The case is expected to last three weeks and a public hearing tentatively has been scheduled Oct. 18 in Chipley.

Sep 20 11

Hearing begins in rare water dispute in northwest Florida

by Save Sand Hill Lakes

Bruce Ritchie, September 19, 2011 – 06:16 PM

A dispute between Bay and Washington counties that also involves some large private landowners has created a rare battle over public water use in northwest Florida.

The Northwest Florida Water Management District last year issued a permit to Bay County to pump up to 30 million gallons per day from St. Joe Co. land in Bay County along the Washington County line.

Washington County and the James L. Knight Trust, which owns 55,000 acres in the area, oppose the pumping plan. They say the district hasn’t performed necessary studies needed to detect the harm to the environment and other water uses that could occur.

“What we have is essentially a well field that will create an unquestionable impact … to property owners off of this property without any real consideration of alternatives,” said Brian Bolves, an attorney for the trust.

Water-use permitting by water management districts is the key to balancing environmental protection with economic development.

On Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Water Policy hears from a panel on water-use permitting statewide. The panel was created by House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, in 2010 to consider water issues affecting the state.

In Tallahassee on Monday, the Division of Administrative Hearings began four weeks of hearings on the legal challenges to the Bay County water-use permit. Area residents James Murfee and Lee Lapensohn also filed a challenge to the permit along with Washington County and the James L. Knight Trust.

Ken Oertel, an attorney representing Bay County, said the pumping permit, which allows an average of 5 million gallons per day, is needed to protect the health and safety of Bay County residents. They receive water from Deer Point Lake, where a dam was built in the 1960s to separate the freshwater reservoir from the saltwater North Bay.

Bay County officials have become concerned that a hurricane could breach the reservoir and push salt water into the reservoir, Oertel told Administrative Law Judge David Maloney. Another concern is that water supplies could become contaminated if a railroad train that is carrying chemicals derails near Deer Point Lake,

Oertel also said the Floridan Aquifer in northern Bay County where the pumping is proposed is easily replenished by the average 62 inches of annual rainfall.

And he said pumping would have no effect on the surrounding region and that pumping could be reduced or shut should monitoring show harm is being done. The 10 wells will be spaced across 21 square miles of St. Joe land.

“We think when you hear the evidence it’s going to be pretty clear that the risk to Bay County citizens’ (water supply) totally outweighs the potential to harm any natural systems,” Oertel said.

But Bolves, the attorney for the James L. Knight Trust, said Bay County hasn’t demonstrated what other steps it would take to reduce water use if Deer Point Lake water supply was threatened.

The 2008 permit application, Bolves said, was based on projected population growth that has not occurred in Bay County. The new well field, located on St. Joe Co. land just north of the new Bay County airport and the company’s surrounding planned development, could serve 33,000 people.

The area to the north in Washington County is dotted with private wells along with sandhill lakes, seasonal wetlands, karst sinkholes and seepage bogs that depend on groundwater flow and contain rare plants and animals. The Panhandle has been identified by scientists as one of six biological hotspots in the nation.

Bolves said the district has a legal obligation to set minimum levels for lakes but hasn’t done such studies, which he said are needed to provide a starting point for studying the effects of pumping.

“Essentially what we have is a monitoring plan that comes in after the fact, attempts to study what essentially will be a moving target based on drawdowns which are yet to occur,” Bolves said.

An attorney representing the Northwest Florida Water Management District said the agency would make its opening statement at a later date in the month-long hearing.

Jan 21 11

EDITORIAL: Simmering water issue

by Save Sand Hill Lakes

January 20, 2011 08:00:00 AM

The proposal by Bay County and the Northwest Florida Water Management District to drill 10 wells near the Washington County border as a backup water supply has encountered intense opposition from residents and landowners in that area who fear damage to their water resources.

Opponents contend Bay County and NWFWMD have not been upfront about the plan and have filed suit to stop it. The acrimony is just starting.

One thing that could unite them, though, is any attempt to repeal the state’s local sources first water policy.

The chairman of the Florida House’s Select Committee on Water Policy recently said that her panel this year will review the policy, which should send a shiver down the Panhandle’s collective spine.

Local sources first instituted in 1998, requires the Department of Environmental Protection and the state’s five water management districts to evaluate local water supply plans with an emphasis on developing more expensive local water supplies rather than building pipelines.
It was set up to protect water-rich North Florida from water-starved South Florida.

Northerners feared that Southerners would build pipelines to transfer northern water southward. The situation is similar to, although not yet as severe as, the one involving Atlanta.

Massive growth in Georgia’s largest metropolitan area over the last 30 years has created excessive demand for water, particularly from Lake Lanier and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin. The drawdown on those resources has had negative consequences for the ecosystems they support in neighboring Alabama and Florida. For two decades the three states have been locked in a battle over who should have access to that water.

Three-fourths of Florida’s population lives in the southern part, a region that receives less than half of the state’s rainfall. Like Atlanta, the demand for water is straining the supply. Lake Okeechobee’s levels have been declining precipitously. The South Florida Water Management District projects that by the end of this month the lake could drop low enough to trigger tougher watering restrictions.

So when Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, chairman of the House water committee, says she wants to take a look at local sources first, it’s time to start paying attention. Everyone north of Interstate 4 should be concerned about South Florida hungrily eyeing their water.

It’s not the first time the policy has been under assault. In 2003, the Florida Council of 100, a powerful business lobbying group, recommended creating a statewide water authority and allowing transfers of surface water from north to south basically gutting local sources first. Public response in the North was explosive. Then-Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, said that this is as close as North vs. South you’re going to get since the Civil War.

The council backed down and the issue went dormant. But South Florida’s water demands remain, and it appears local sources first might be back on the table.

Rep. Williams told the Florida Tribune that she doesn’t think a review of the policy should touch off fears about water pipelines. Nevertheless, we expect Reps. Jimmy Patronis and Marti Coley and Sen. Don Gaetz to keep a close eye on the situation and to fight to protect the Panhandle’s water interests.

Nov 30 10

A Special Place: Land in Sand Hill region gets new Audubon designation

by Save Sand Hill Lakes

2010-11-20 16:28:29

SAND HILLS – Standing on the beach of a lake more than three miles in circumference and 100 feet deep that replenishes the Floridan Aquifer, surrounded by six species of endangered plants and over the sound of several species of frogs croaking in a nearby bog, Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper on Saturday declared the Knight property a special place.

The 55,000 acre property in the Sand Hills region is the first location to earn the Audubon of Florida’s new designation. Each week a new location will be designated a special place, Draper said.

The title holds no legal standing, but is designed to bring attention to Florida’s vast and unique land and water resources. People can nominate locations as a special place and post photos, videos and information to the Florida’s Special Places page, he said.

We want to get people out and active and connecting with nature, conservation campaign manager Jonathan Webber said.

In the past, conservation efforts placed emphasis on land acquisition, but as funds for land acquisition deplete, Audubon has been doing more to work with private land owners and help them plan for the future of their land, Draper said.

The Knight property is a privately held working forest with a series of streams and lakes and is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life. Large parts of the property are pristine and largely untouched by humans on a regular basis, Draper said. To make people understand the importance of protecting such a location, they first need to know it exists, he said.

We at Audubon want people to know this is what makes Florida special, he said.

Several conservationists were on hand for Draper’s announcement of the new designation during a rare tour of the property on Saturday.

“I’m so thrilled this is going to be first on Eric’s list,” field biologist Lisa Keppner said.

Keppner said she and her husband have been studying the property for two and a half years, as they were first contracted to help establish a sector plan for the area, and then to gather information on how a proposed nearby well field would affect the region.

The rare plants are here because the way the water level goes up and down, she said. Science does not give us a clear answer to what will happen to the plants if the water level is permanently lowered, but history tells us it’s nothing good.

The site was chosen as the first special place because it is vulnerable, Draper said.

Last spring the Northwest Florida Water Management District was prepared to grant a permit to Bay County for 10 water wells to be drilled just south of Sand Hills and the border with Washington County. The process was halted when Washington County and private property holders, including Knight Trust, filed petitions against the project.

Conservation consultant George Willson said there was not enough data collected to tell what the affect of the wells would be and both sides are currently in the process of gathering information for litigation and the wells are on hold until the spring of 2011.

The concern is the wells will drain the lakes of the Sand Hills region and create a situation similar to what happened in the Everglades. Unique and vital habitats would be lost and wildlife populations could plummet, Draper said.

“I think the information will filter out about how amazing a place Bay and Washington counties have and they don’t know it,” Draper said.

In an effort to further educate people about water resources, Audubon of Florida will be hosting a water festival in the spring in Washington County, Draper said. Details of the event will be announced as they are formulated.

Oct 15 10

Water Fight Comes To Washington County

by Save Sand Hill Lakes

October 15, 2010
Kathy Foster, Foster Folly News

County residents concerned about what they see as probable water problems arising from well site on St. Joe land in northwestern Bay County turned out for an informational meeting at Vernon City Hall on Thursday night.

The public information meeting was hosted by Washington County at the Vernon City Council Chamber on Thursday night to inform the public of the issues relating to Washington County’s request of Northwest Florida Water Management District to stop the permitting of ten water wells in Bay County.

These wells are to be located south of Washington County’s southern boundary, and the proposed water that would be drawn from these wells originates from the Floridan and Surficial aquifers that traverse Washington County.

Earlier this year Bay County applied for the permits for the proposed wells, and at that time provided supporting documentation that the use of these wells would not adversely impact Washington County.

When the Washington County Board of County Commissioners found out about the application made through Northwest Florida Water Management District, they joined with Northern Trust to fight the well permits.

Doug Manson, Special Counsel for Washington County, was at Thursday night’s meeting and said Bay County needs to look at conserving water before they ask for more.

It was pointed out that Bay County/St. Joe have been working toward the development of ten wells in northwestern Bay County to serve residential and industrial needs stemming from construction of the new Bay County International Airport, but have never developed a history on which to firm up their predictions of water needs.

Those speaking at the meeting noted that water consumption from Deer Point Lake is projected to meet the needs of Bay County until 2025 and the county’s currently projected population growth is not sufficient to require the amount of water being sought through their permit.

Doug Manson is a Tampa-based “water attorney”. He said the water wars in the Tampa Bay area are too closely similar to what is going on between Bay and Washington counties. He said the water management district serving the Tampa area at that time approved well permits to the detriment of the wetlands and lakes in the area. He described how the wetlands dried up and said eventually the water management district had to pay large sums of taxpayers’ dollars to rectify their mistake.

Manson said more studies are needed because some models of this area show serious draw-down effects would occur. He said if lakes such as Crystal Lake are proved to be connected to the Floridan Aquifer then there would be a great impact on Washington County’s natural resource.

Josh Schmitze, P.E., Senior Environmental Scientist with Water Resource Associates, also spoke at the meeting said the Northwest Florida Water Management District issued a new (changed) permit last week involving the wells proposed by Bay County and he doesn’t expect a hearing to be set before the summer of 2011.

Schmitze said other regions of the state have problems overcoming groundwater withdrawals. He said in some instances they have resulted in lower lake levels.

He reminded the audience that just ‘test’ wells have been drilled, but they can’t pump the water out.

Schmitze said Bay County and the Northwest Florida Water Management District claim that local lakes only draw from the Surficial level, but new data shows lakes actually draw from the Floridan Aquifer level. He said the Intermediate System level is about 50 feet deep on its western most boundary at the Chattahoochee River and narrows as it moves eastward.

He said the burden of proof should be on Bay County to prove the sand hills lakes don’t go into the Floridan Aquifer.

Schmitze said ongoing site visits are needed to collect field data showing the impact on the lakes, wetlands, springs, rivers and creeks of Washington County.

Also speaking was Eric Draper, Executive Director of the Audubon of Florida, who said Florida is “defined by its water resources.”

“Washington County has extraordinary resources and they need to be protected,” said Draper. “You can’t let happen what has happened in other areas. You can’t have over withdrawals of ground waters. Tampa Bay learned the hard way and they had to spend millions to correct their problems.”

He added that a drawdown in the Jacksonville area impacted water 50 miles away and commented that the state is spending billions to correct problems created in the everglades.

Winding up the meeting, County Planner Mike D’Runtz, said county commissioners want to keep the public informed and he will be putting information on the county’s website to keep them informed.

For more information on upcoming meetings, contact Michael J. DeRuntz, CFM, Senior Planner for Washington County, Florida at 850-415-5093 or

Oct 15 10

Information meeting held on Bay County water-well proposal

by Save Sand Hill Lakes

October 15, 2010
JAY FELSBERG, Managing Editor

Panama City News Herald / Chipley Paper

VERNON – The Vernon City Council chambers were filled Thursday night as Washington County residents and property owners were on hand to get the most recent information on a proposal by Bay County to drill 10 water wells just south of the Sand Hills area of south Washington County.

Washington County Senior Planner Mike DeRuntz hosted the meeting and credited County Manager Emory Pitts with providing the guidance to organize the meeting.

The water well issue arose last spring when Northwest Florida Water Management District was preparing to grant Bay County a permit to drill the wells on St. Joe Co. to provide a backup water supply in case the current Bay County water supply at Deerpoint Lake is interrupted.

Since that time both Washington County, following strong public input into the project, and the Knight Trust, a major landholder in Bay and Washington counties, have filed petitions on the water well project. Washington County’s attorney on the case, Doug Manson, said that due to the litigation NFWMD would not address the issue until spring 2011.

The proposed permit was recently modified from 5 million gallons a day for the first five years and up to 10 million a day after that under a 20-year permit, to an average of 5 million gallons of water a day annually with a peak amount of 30 million gallons a day. The proposed wells have also been moved farther south.

Manson and Senior Environmental Scientist Josh Schmitz of Water Resources Associates provided a wide variety of information and opinion:

Florida water statute 373 was passed in 1972 establishing water management districts, and also calls for the applicant of a project to prove certain things for water projects: whether there is a need for the project, whether the project is wasteful and whether it interferes with current legal use of water. The applicant also has to show that a proposal is consistent with the public interest and does it enhance the environment or provide harm.

The watershed in question is a known as a Karst field where action on limestone creates sinkholes, sinking streams, springs and caves. Schmitz said that in effect water flows down a sinkhole like it would down a drain. This has happened in other parts of Florida and has caused rivers and lakes to drain and dry up. It is possible, for example, that Crystal Lake in the Sand Hills has a sinkhole that has cut through the mostly clay intermediate level of the aquifer and has penetrated all the way to the Upper Floridan level itself.

Schmitz said he has not found out what data NFWMD used for their flow models to measure the possible effect of the water well project.

“In Florida we are defined by our water resources,” said Eric Draper, executive director of the Audubon Society of Florida. “That makes us special and it’s what makes Washington County special. We have extraordinary reserves that should not be treated as ordinary, but should be treated as extraordinary.”

Draper warned that the region would not abundant water if leaders allowed what happened in other parts of the state, including the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, Jacksonville and The Everglades. “The water management district is rushing into this decision right now,” Draper said. “It is important that the water management district not issue the permit without measuring what the effect would be.”

Schmitz said that despite three years of modeling the project there is still not enough data available to allow it to continue on.

Manson said that under the law the applicant, in this case Bay County, has the duty to prove its case and provide the information needed.

“This is just the beginning,” said Bill Gunter, a resident of the Sand Hills. “It will happen over and over and over again. We’ve got to learn from south Florida. When it comes to money and politics the environment will always take a back seat.”

Sep 29 10

Public Information Meeting Concerning Water Wells in Bay County

by Save Sand Hill Lakes

September 24, 2010

A public information meeting will be held by Washington County at the Vernon City Council Chamber at 6 PM on Thursday, October 14. This meeting will be held to inform the public of the issues relating to Washington County’s request of Northwest Florida Water Management District to stop the permitting of ten water wells in Bay County.

These wells are just south of Washington County’s southern boundary, and the proposed water that would be drawn from these wells originates from the Floridan and surfical aquifers that traverse Washington County.

Bay County has applied for the permits for these wells, and have provided supporting documentation that the use of these wells will not adversely impact Washington County. Washington County would like to take this opportunity to share its concerns, as well as, hear those of the public and other interested parties.

For more information, contact Michael J. DeRuntz, CFM, Senior Planner for Washington County, Florida at 850-415-5093 or