Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;

January 2016 Conservation Notes

Nature and Culture

“Nature has some intrinsic, inherent value beyond the instrumental.”
-Paul Kingsnorth

Among the general population of voters in Florida there is much more awareness of the ecological cost of water withdrawal and pollution than there was a decade or more ago.  A wide-ranging and fundamental amendment to the Florida constitution to mandate and codify the protection and enhancement of the lands and waters of Florida was passed by the voters in 2014 by a 3 to 1 margin.  There is also much more community scrutiny of activities that call for very large and constant withdrawals from the aquifer. 

However, this level of awareness of the true ecological costs of Business-As-Usual (BAU), the “externalities” of corporate language, is very thin in the ranks of the Florida House and Senate, and in the directors and high-level managers of Florida state departments.  It was particularly egregious that there was almost no discussion of the nature and ecological benefits following from the implementation of the mandates of Amendment 1 allowed on the floors of the House and Senate last year.  The discussions were principally confined to committee meetings, and there was evidently little conversation.  (And, of course, very little legislative action that directly supported the mandates of Amendment 1.)  As the Florida legislators were almost unanimously ignoring this historic ecological amendment, the Florida BAU advocates kept proposing projects that directly impose great costs to the biotic communities and the human beings of Florida, and are approved despite opposition by the majority of community members and the community of those in the hydrological and biological sciences.

As a recent example of an unwanted (by 90% of the public commentators) and ecologically damaging project that was granted water use permits is the Sleepy Creek Lands project, a large-scale grass fed beef operation that is under development in Marion County by Frank Stronach, a Canadian billionaire.  The ranch operation proposes a herd of 17,000 cattle and would require very large scale daily withdrawals from the Floridian aquifer.  The waste from these thousands of cattle would eventually impact the aquifer, returning many many thousands of tons yearly of nitrate-laden animal waste waters directly into the streams or gradually moving  through the porous soil into the aquifer.  For 17,000 head of cattle, an estimate of yearly urine production (at 3.5 gal/day per head) is 21.7 million gallons.  And for manure (at 60/lbs/day per head) the estimate is 186,000 tons per year.  In addition to the waste, the water usage for each finished pound of beef is about 1,800 gallons.  The negative effects on the aquifer caused by drawdown and nitrate pollution associated with animal waste by this cattle operation will not be borne by the owners of this operation but will be passed on to the bio-systems dependent upon clean surface waters and aquifers that are maintained at levels required by both human being and the animal nations.

However, despite the opposition of the Marion County community and testimony of biologists and hydrologists of the many negative effects of this large-scale ranch operation and the associated effects of the aquifer, on July 14th last year the state-appointed governing board of the St. Johns River Water Management District voted unanimously to approve a water use permit sought by Sleepy Creek Lands.  This permit allows for 1.46 million gallons-day (mgd) to be withdrawn from the Floridian aquifer.  A permit for an additional withdrawal of 1.12 mgd is currently “on hold” but may be pursued in the future. 

As a perspective and thought experiment, a well that provided one gallon of drinking water per day for all residents in Volusia, Flagler and St. Johns counties would require approximately 0.82 mgd in drawdown.  This amount of drinking water for the 820,000 residents of these three counties is 56% of the amount (1.46 mgd) granted by a Florida regulatory body to an operation whose principal beneficiaries are a multi-national corporation owned by a foreign billionaire…not the residents or eco-systems or springs of Florida.  This type of selling of public resources (in this case a resource essential to all life) for private gain is all too common among those who are supposed to represent the public interest in Florida.  The courts, and—it is hoped—the electoral process could yet create an active and effective voice of public advocacy for the millions of Florida residents and voters who recognize the primacy of the waters and eco-systems of this state and of “Great Nature”, the source and sustainer of all life.

Lamont Ingalls

Conservation Chair