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Declining groundwater levels subject of scrutiny

With northeast Florida groundwater levels in decline, the region's two water management districts are now working together to determine why it's happening and what can be done to reverse the trend.

At their first joint public meeting, held in Gainesville last week, staff from the Suwannee River (SRWMD) and St. Johns River (SJRWMD) water management districts presented data indicating a regional drawdown of the Floridan Aquifer is occurring in a wide area that includes southeast Georgia and the Jacksonville metropolitan area, and appears to be creeping westward into the Upper Santa Fe River Basin (USFRB).

The basin lies within the SRWMD and includes portions of Baker, Columbia, Bradford, Union and Alachua counties.

"The drawdown may impact the health of the natural systems and future water supplies in the basin," Carlos Herd, SRWMD water supply project manager, told the audience.

Among those attending the meeting were representatives from local governments, utilities, regional planning councils, environmental consultants and special interest groups.

Both water management districts are in the process of developing individual water supply plans for areas within their boundaries. But the districts are coordinating to make sure their plans reflect the regional nature of groundwater levels and withdrawals.

The water supply plan for the USFRB is scheduled for adoption by the SRWMD governing board in December 2010. Once the plan has been adopted, local governments in the basin will have 18 months to incorporate alternative water supply projects into their comprehensive plans.

The SRWMD also is assessing other water bodies in order to evaluate future water supply needs. The state's five water management districts are statutorily required to have plans in place to meet water supply demands over the next 20 years.

The SJRWMD water supply plan for the northeast region is also scheduled for adoption in December 2010. The St. Johns and Suwannee districts will host a series of joint public meetings to allow opportunities for the public to participate in the planning process prior to adoption of the plans.

The next public meeting is set for July 9. Times and locations for the meetings will be posted at www.mysuwanneeriver.com and www.sjrwmd.com.

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