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Goundwater up in many areas - not in Cedar Key

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By Mark Scohier

Groundwater levels in parts of Levy and surrounding counties are up, according to the Suwannee River Water Management District.
Tropical storms Beryl and Debbie dumped unprecedented amounts of rain in the area, helping to alleviate record drought and plummeting groundwater levels. The average rainfall throughout the district in June, according to SRWMD, was about 18.4 inches, which set a new record.
The majority of Levy County’s groundwater now falls within normal levels, SRWMD reports, though eastern portions, as well as the area surrounding Cedar Key still continue to range in the low to extremely low levels.
About half of Dixie County, on the Gulf side, is listed in the high range, while the remainder is ranked as normal. Gilchrist County shows improvement, as well, though about half of the county in its southeastern range remains low to extremely low.
In Levy County, Bronson Blue Springs, which closed a few months ago because it had ceased flowing, has come up a bit, according to Levy County Parks and Recreation Director Matt Weldon.
But there are no plans to open the spring as of yet.
“It’s not pushing out, as far as a clear, blue spring the way it used to be,” Weldon said Friday, adding that the spring was still full of algae and needed to rise at least another two feet.
“It’s not at a level we feel comfortable letting people go in right now.”
Weldon said he’s hopeful that recent rains, on top of what was delivered by the tropical storms, will help bring things back to normal.
Rowena Thomas, of Devil’s Den, in Williston, which during the drought had water levels drop by as much as 12 feet, says water has come up about 2 feet.
“It’s improved slightly,’ she said
“It’s all very, very good, and a whole lot better than it was.”
But Dr. Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Springs Institute, said the recharge to the aquifer is only a “temporary respite.”
Springs recharge almost immediately when it rains, he said. “It’s very unlikely that spring flows will come back to historic averages until we have multiple years of rainfall.”
Knight said he’s concerned that the slight improvement may work against efforts to get people and agencies to work toward conservation. Water management districts are still not taking into consideration the effects of water pumpage from big farms, cities and industry, he said.
There are 28,631 consumptive use permits issued by the Suwannee River, St, Johns and Southwest Florida water management districts, he said, and that’s not including more than 1 million small wells, all of which contribute to the withdrawal of  2.6 billion gallons of water each day in North Florida.  There are 3,406 active consumptive use permits in the SRWMD’s area alone, he said. That equals about 300 million gallons a day for the district.
Still, he said, “They really believe that pumping is not making a difference,” thus an approach to water management that only considers drought as a factor contributing to the decline in groundwater.
Drought is a factor, he said. Rainfall has declined by about 15 percent in North Florida since the 1960s. But Florida in the past has had worse droughts than the most recent experienced, he said, and the states groundwater and spring flow levels have never been so low.
“We gotta’ pump less groundwater if we want to save the springs.”