Large Consumptive Use Permit Threatens Silver Springs

St. Johns River Water Management District Water News

For up-to-date information from the St. Johns River Water Management District about the Sleepy Creek Land consumptive use permit: Link to District Website

Ocala Star-Banner 09/07/2014, Page A09

Your water, your money and the public trust

By Robert Knight

Special to the Star-Banner
Your state government is hard at work undefined spending hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars to fight environmental advocates trying to protect Silver Springs and the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers from further degradation.

During five days last week, the petitioners undefined Karen Ahlers and Jeri Baldwin, the Sierra Club, the St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Florida Defenders of the Environment undefined joined forces in a David-and-Goliath struggle against Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach’s Sleepy Creek Lands (aka Adena Springs Ranch) cattle operation near Fort McCoy. Against all logic, the St. Johns River Water Management District was on the wrong side of this legal contest.

At stake was the transfer of an existing 1.46 million gallons per day (mgd) groundwater permit from a former sod farm to the first phase of Stronach’s grass-fed beef operation. After 2years of negotiations that reduced the requested groundwater use from an average of 13.2 mgd to about 5.3 mgd for about 17,000 cows on nearly 30,000 acres, the applicant and district decided to divide the ranch project into multiple phases. In May, the district recommended issuance of water-quality and groundwater- pumping permits for the first phase.

Over 4,000 acres of timberland have already been cleared to accommodate more than 6,000 cattle. Instead of relying on Florida’s abundant rainfall to water their grass, Sleepy Creek plans to use over 200 gallons of aquifer (i.e., spring) water per cow, per day to increase their profit margin.

This extra profit comes at a staggering cost to the public.

The petitioner’s experts made the following demonstrations of fact. First, the previous permittee, Johnson Sod Farm, was actually using about 0.2 mgd and not the permitted 1.46 mgd, and therefore, the transferred permit actually allows an average 1.26 mgd increase in groundwater use, inflicting further harm at Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha River.

The 6,400 cattle planned for Phase 1 will produce an estimated 158 million pounds of manure and 11 million gallons of urine per year. The irrigated grass will require about 700,000 pounds of nitrogen in fertilizer, in addition to cattle waste. These cumulative nitrogen loads are expected to contribute additional pollution of the region’s surface and groundwaters.

While the district’s consultant opined that 1.46 mgd is a “small” groundwater extraction, in fact, it would authorize the cattle operation to divert a total of 10.7 billion gallons of water that would otherwise nourish the area’s springs over the 20-year permit period.

Another way to look at 1.46 mgd is to realize that at current average Florida per capita water use rates, this permitted quantity could provide a perpetual water supply for about 10,700 people.

While the district has recently determined that the aquifer feeding Silver Springs is over-permitted by more than 30 mgd, and the whole district is facing a serious shortage of water for public supply, district management is so eager to appease this applicant that they expended hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend the issuance of this permit.

Earlier this year, the district committed to spending $20 million on springs’ projects that they claim will eliminate more than 700,000 pounds of nitrogen pollution per year and reduce existing groundwater withdrawals by up to 1.5 mgd. The obvious irony is that a simple denial of the Sleepy Creek permit would have accomplished the same goals and saved the taxpayers $20 million.

A public hearing was held as part of the permit challenge. With only two days of notification, about 100 people showed up to plead with the judge for permit denial.

Sleepy Creek’s neighbors already are suffering consequences, including the sight of wild animals driven from their homes by land-clearing, swarms of biting flies and failure of private wells. Dozens of concerned residents described the former beauty of Silver Springs and their dismay over its current sad condition due to declining flow and increasing nutrient pollution.

Florida’s water law is clear. Every permitted groundwater extraction needs to be in the “public interest.” The public has bravely spoken that the proposed Sleepy Creek water use is not in their interest. The district should listen more closely to the people whose environmental treasures they are entrusted to protect. 

Aerial photograph of Adena Springs Ranch courtesy of Putnam County Environmental Council. Taken on 1/10/2013. Since that time, the clear cutting has continued.


 The above photo from early 2013 shows clear cutting of wet pine flatwoods, dotted with seasonal wetlands, creeks, and streams that drain directly to the Ocklawaha River.

To read the perspective of some concerned citizens click on the link:

On May 11, 2013, Mike Register, Director of Regulatory Services at St. Johns Water Management District gave a presentation about the current status of the Adena Springs Consumptive Use Permit. You can see his PowerPoint slides by clicking here.

This is the state's response to citizens against this permit:

Thank you for sharing your concerns about the consumptive use permit (CUP) application that the Adena Springs Ranch submitted to the St. Johns River Water Management District. The original application, which the District received on Dec. 2, 2011, requested an allocation of 13.267 million gallons of water per day (mgd). The applicant on Dec. 14, 2012, requested that its application be amended to an allocation of 5.3 mgd.

District staff on Jan. 11, 2013, determined that additional technical information was needed and sent the applicant a Request for Additional Information (RAI) letter. The applicant responded to the District’s RAI letter on April 18, 2013. The District has until May 18, 2013, to determine whether the application is complete. If the application is considered complete, District staff will determine if the requested allocation of water meets District permitting criteria. If the application is not determined to be complete, a new RAI will be issued.

We have posted facts about the application, review process and public input opportunities on our website at As new information becomes available on the application, we are continuing to update that web page.


Again, thank you for writing and for sharing your concerns, which have been entered into the official permitting record relating to the application.


Hank Largin, Public Communications Coordinator

Office of Communications and Intergovernmental Affairs

St. Johns River Water Management District

Maitland Service Center

601 South Lake Destiny Road, Maitland, FL 32751-7262

(407) 659-4836 office

(407) 832-3703 mobile



Adena Springs location relative to Silver Springs

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