W - FILE - Santa Fe River 1 DSCF6040 copyIn May 2012, area residents surveyed the High Springs boat ramp at Santa Fe River, only to find much of the river was gone. The river rebounded weeks later, but the Suwannee River Water Management District remains concerned about its outlook.

ALACHUA – Ann Shortelle, executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), presented to the Alachua City Commission new scientific findings on Monday.

The presentation was based on the minimum flows and levels of the lower Santa Fe River and its priority spring as well as the Ichetucknee River and its priority springs.

Minimum flows and levels are the amount of water withdrawn without causing significant harm to the water sources, Shortelle said.

The SRWMD looks at environmental values to measure the flow, levels and any significant harm for each of the water bodies. For the Ichetucknee River and springs, it looks at recreation. For the lower Santa Fe River and springs, it looks at fish and wildlife habitats and passage of fish, said Steve Minnis, director of governmental affairs and communications for SRWMD.

Red flags rose in the lower Santa Fe River and springs when there was too much ground water withdrawn.

Ground water crosses through boundaries, so withdrawals in one district can and may affect the water body in another district, Minnis said.

This begins the recovery process.

Due to significant harm that was caused, the SRWMD has asked the North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership Stakeholders Advisory Committee for input and has peer review meetings.

The Ichetucknee River and springs are under a prevention period. If nothing is resolved, then those water bodies will be in recovery as well.

The next committee meeting is Aug. 19 at 1 p.m. in the Wilson S. Rivers Library and Media Center, Building 200, Room 102 at Florida Gateway College in Lake City.

The committee meets once a month.

It is the primary place where they work on recovery and prevention, Shortelle said.

The upcoming peer review meeting dates are in the process of being set. People who wish to participate can sign up with “Notify Me” on the website for updates.

“Recovery strategies for lower Santa Fe River and priority springs will also benefit the prevention strategies for the Ichetucknee River and priority springs,” Minnis said.

The water management district will set the minimum flow and levels on the springs. They already have done so for the rivers.

SRWMD has asked the University of Florida Water Institute to review its science.

Shortelle described three main tools used in the plan.

The first is water conservation. It is the least cost alternative to recover or prevent significant harm to the river and springs.

Use less water.

“Every drop counts,” Shortelle said.

The second is regulatory tools. Strategies have not yet been developed. That will be part of the process from the public input meetings.

The same goes for the third—projects. The water management district and committees will be evaluating different projects. They are looking at traditional ways of getting more water into the system.

“It’s all of our jobs,” Shortelle said.

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