June 16, 2011

Rules Will Reduce Impacts From Future Frost/Freeze Events

The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s new regulatory rules took effect today for existing and future water use permit holders in the Dover/Plant City area with crops that require frost/freeze protection.

The District developed the new rules in response to the unprecedented 11-day January 2010 freeze event, which resulted in more than 750 dry wells and more than 140 sinkholes. The new rules are one component of a District’s comprehensive freeze management plan, which was developed to significantly reduce impacts from future frost/freeze events.

The major components of the new rules include:

  • Declaring a 256-square-mile water use caution area in the
    Dover/Plant City area

    The purpose of a water use caution area (WUCA) is to identify an area where the District intends to impose special requirements for existing and future permit holders to prevent or remedy regional problems caused by water withdrawals. The District developed special regulatory rules affecting the 256-square-mile Dover/Plant City WUCA that apply to existing and future water use permit holders with crops that require frost/freeze protection.
  • Establishing a minimum aquifer level and Minimum Aquifer Level Protection Zone
    A minimum aquifer level is the level at which further withdrawals will cause significant harm. The Minimum Aquifer Level Protection Zone is the most impacted area where the greatest concentration of withdrawal impacts, such as well complaints and sinkholes, have occurred. In the Dover/Plant City area, the proposed minimum aquifer level has been set at 10 feet above sea level at the District’s DV-1 monitor well. The District determined that the majority of the well failures and sinkholes happened after water levels fell below this level. The Minimum Aquifer Level Protection Zone has been established in the surrounding area where freeze protection groundwater withdrawals lowered aquifer levels more than 30 feet.
  • Developing a recovery strategy to help meet the minimum aquifer level
    The District is required by Florida statute to develop a recovery strategy whenever a water body is not meeting its established minimum flow or level. The aquifer levels in the Dover/Plant City area fell well below the minimum aquifer level in January 2010 as well as several times in previous years. Since aquifer levels in the Dover/Plant City area fall below the minimum aquifer level during significant freeze events, a recovery strategy is required.

    The goal of the recovery strategy is to reduce groundwater pumping for freeze protection by 20% within 10 years. It’s expected that such reductions would keep groundwater levels above the minimum aquifer level and avoid or minimize significant impacts. The District hopes to achieve the 20% goal by offering financial incentives for alternative freeze protection methods such as tailwater recovery ponds and crop covers. These incentives will be available through the District’s Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems, or FARMS, Program.
  • Requiring Automatic Meter Reading Devices
    Flow meters and automatic meter reading devices are now required on all withdrawal points, such as wells and reservoirs, for all permits with crops that utilize frost/freeze protection quantities. This will provide accurate real-time meter readings and freeze temperatures. The District will provide funding for flow meters and installation for existing permit holders not previously required to have flow meters. Permit holders will be responsible for any maintenance or replacement of these meters. The District will also fund automatic meter reading equipment and installation. The District will be responsible for all ongoing costs associated with the automatic meter reading equipment. The District plans to implement the flow meters and automatic meter reading equipment within the next five years.
  • Creating a new process for allocating dry well complaints
    The District designed a new process for determining which permit holder is responsible for responding to dry well complaints during freeze events. This process results in a very equitable approach to assign permit holders a relative responsibility based on the volume of groundwater they are permitted to use for crop protection and their proximity to the complainant’s well.

The District’s 13-member Governing Board approved the new rules at its December 2010 meeting and the Governor’s office signed off on the rules last month.

For more information on the new regulatory rules or the District’s freeze management plan, visit WaterMatters.org/frost-freeze/.

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