Citizens Challenge the Rainbow River MFL; SWFWMD Withdraws the Proposed Rule
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Dan Hilliard, President
Florida Springs Council
Margaret Stewart, Esq., Legal Chair
Florida Springs Council
June 6, 2017
HIGH SPRINGS, FL – In the face of a suit from concerned citizens, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) announced today that it is withdrawing its proposed rule setting minimum flows and levels (MFL) for the Rainbow River system.
The Rainbow MFL rule was approved by the SWFWMD Governing Board on May 23 and immediately challenged by a local coalition consisting of the Rainbow River Conservation, Inc. (RRC) and six citizens who live on or near the river. The challenge was scheduled to be heard by Administrative Law Judge Bram Canter in late June. Legal action is now on hold pending release of a new rule by the District and assessment of that new rule by the petitioners.
Petitioners have documented the fact that water flow and water quality in Rainbow Springs have been steadily degrading over recent decades. Noxious algae have proliferated and visibility has been severely compromised. In the now-withdrawn rule, the District used flawed groundwater models to buttress its conclusion that reduced spring flows are normal and that more local groundwater pumping would not cause significant harm.
SWFWMD’s apparent reason for withdrawing the proposed rule is to clarify vagueness in its wording. The gist of the withdrawn rule read:
The Minimum Flow for the Rainbow River System is 95% of the natural flow as measured at the United States Geological Survey Rainbow River at Dunnellon, FL Gage (Gage No. 02313100), or as measured at any point in the system. Natural flow is defined for the purpose of this rule as the flow that would exist in the absence of water withdrawal impacts.
The basis of the legal challenge to the proposed rule was that it was vague and vested overly broad discretion in the District. The District’s withdrawal of the rule suggests that it is formulating new rule language expressing the MFLs in more understandable language and describing how compliance with the MFLs will be assessed.
Dan Hilliard, President of the Florida Springs Council, commented: “FSC strongly supports our colleagues‘ challenge to the Rainbow MFL. We are pleased that the District has recognized some of the inadequacies of the proposed rule. However, whether a newer version of that proposed rule will in fact protect the Rainbow from ongoing and future degradation remains to be seen. In any event, FSC will stand with RCC, Inc. and the other citizen-petitioners in their fight to protect one of Florida’s natural gems.“
The Florida Springs Council is a consortium of 45 citizens‘ organizations, representing about 350,000 Floridians, which aims to ensure the restoration, preservation and protection for future generations of Florida’s springs and the Floridan aquifer that sustains those springs.
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