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Finding solutions to complex water supply issues
District staff member Alan Story in January moved piping into place as a monitoring well was drilled in Jasper, Fla.
Just add water.
These three simple words might best describe one potential solution for helping to solve the complex long-term water supply challenges in north Florida.
Nowhere is the challenge more evident than in Clay, Putnam, Alachua and Baker counties, where jurisdictional boundaries of the Suwannee River and St. Johns River water management districts converge and where water levels at area lakes have been low for numerous years.
Historically, the two districts worked independently, issuing permits and regulating water use within their respective boundaries. But the Floridan aquifer — an underground source that provides millions of gallons of water daily for domestic supply, industry and agriculture in north Florida — does not stop and start at the districts’ boundaries. Rainfall deficits in north Florida have resulted in lower water levels above and below ground, prompting the two districts and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to work closely together to find long-term solutions for revitalizing north Florida’s aquifer system.
The North Florida Aquifer Replenishment Initiative is a cooperative effort seeking to protect and maintain regional aquifer levels by capturing significant quantities of water to recharge the Upper Floridan aquifer at strategic locations. Both districts agree: A robust aquifer would benefit lakes, springs and wetlands and expand the sustainable water supply for the region.
The two districts are working together to develop groundwater flow models; collect and share data; and develop a regional water supply plan that will encompass the eastern counties in Suwannee’s jurisdiction and the northernmost counties within the St. Johns District.
“If you can recharge the aquifer, you help everyone who relies on the aquifer as their water supply source,” says Carlos Herd, the Suwannee District coordinator of the initiative. “We’re developing a joint regional water supply plan with the St. Johns District, and the North Florida Aquifer Replenishment Initiative will dovetail with that plan.”
“Some solutions under consideration for our collective strategy are projects that will bring new water to the aquifer.”
— Al Canepa, assistant director, St. Johns District’s Division of Water Resources
Florida’s water management districts protect water bodies — including springs, rivers and lakes —by establishing minimum flows and levels (MFLs). MFLs are flows and water levels that ensure water withdrawals will not cause significant harm to the water resource or the ecology of the area. The North Florida Aquifer Replenishment Initiative may be a key component to achieving MFLs in water bodies that are currently not meeting their MFLs or are projected to not meet their MFLs within 20 years.
“The Floridan aquifer is the most significant source of freshwater in the region,” says Al Canepa, assistant director of the St. Johns District’s Division of Water Resources. “There have been declines in wells and water bodies here. The vast majority of the declines are due to rainfall deficits. Some solutions under consideration for our collective strategy are projects that will bring new water to the aquifer.”
No single effort will solve water resource challenges in north Florida, so the districts are collaborating on a wide range of concepts that include:
- Pumping treated reclaimed water from public supply sources into areas of Clay County that recharge water rapidly
- Capturing and storing water from rivers when flows are high
- “Harvesting” storm water and piping it to recharge areas
One example of stormwater harvesting is a study that looks at capturing storm water along Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) rights-of-way along the Jacksonville area’s Outer Beltway (State Road 23) and State Road 21, treating the water and sending it to the Keystone Heights area to replenish the aquifer and lakes.
Patrick Burger, a St. Johns District hydrologist, uses a variety of data to build predictive groundwater flow computer models.
How does one determine whether recharging the aquifer with new water sources will have the desired impact? Experts hope to answer that with a pilot test under way in southwestern Clay County. This work involves drilling a well into the lower Floridan aquifer and pumping water to the Etonia Creek basin and studying its movement above and below ground. Dozens of wells sprinkled throughout 30 strategic locations will help determine whether aquifer replenishment works before more costly projects are pursued that involve bringing alternative water sources from out of the area.
“There are border areas in the Suwannee and St. Johns districts where we have gaps in data,” Canepa says. “We have well-drilling crews gathering data on both sides.”
The districts also hired an independent consultant to develop four conceptual regional recharge projects to replenish the Upper Floridan aquifer. The consultant will produce a feasibility report listing cost estimates for each of the recharge projects and establish timetables for when they could be implemented.
“By working together, the two districts will have a shared understanding of water impacts in north Florida and potential solutions,” Canepa says. “Using updated flow models and gathering new data will improve our ability to develop more consistent information for water supply planning and water use permitting decisions.”