NRLI Class XVIII Session 6
Water Quality: Springs & Agriculture
We held Session 6 in Dowling Park, a retirement community near Live Oak. During the session, Fellows interacted with five NRLI alumni. Guest speaker, Hugh Thomas (NRLI Alumnus and Executive Director of Suwanee River Water Management District - SRWMD) introduced Fellows to the area and to the topic at hand:
Water quality: Springs and agriculture.
Fellows also visited a row crop farm with NRLI Alumnus, Charles Barrett. This was followed by a guided tour of Peacock Springs from Stacie Greco (NRLI Alumna) accompanied by Tom Morris, Biologist, Cave diver and consultant for Karst Env. Services.
At each monthly session, the Project Team invites 4-6 people who represent a range of viewpoints and have first-hand knowledge of the topic to share their experiences and perspectives with the group.
During session 6, stakeholders who joined us were:
- Angela Chelette, P.G. (Professional Geologist) - Environmental Administrator, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS)
- Stacie Greco - Interim Water Resources Program Manager, Alachua County Environmental Protection Department; Coordinator of the Santa Fe Springs Protection Forum (NRLI Alumna)
- Joel Love - BMP Education/Outreach Coordinator, UF/IFAS Extension Suwanee County
- Sarah Carte - Producer, Dasher Farms (NRLI Alumna)
- Curt Williams - Assistant Director of Government and Community Affairs at Florida Farm Bureau Federation (NRLI Alumnus)
Each month, we ask a pair of Fellows to review the session in their own words. This article describes reflections from the point of view of Fellows Yesenia Escribano & Jess Sutt
By: Yesenia Escribano & Jess Sutt
"If we do the same thing tomorrow, we'll be out of business"
-Sarah Dasher Carte, 5th Generation Farmer
Spring season solitude, jumping sturgeon, and a plethora of scurrying squirrels welcomed NRLI Class XVIII fellows to their sixth session in February. Three days of focusing on "Water Quality: Springs and Agriculture" were spent in Live Oak, a small town near two of Florida's largest rivers, the Suwanee River and the Santa Fe River. Live Oak is also near several first magnitude Outstanding Florida Springs which include Madison Blue, Fanning, Manatee, Lafayette Blue, Falmouth, Troy, and Peacock springs. The Suwannee River Valley happens to have the highest concentration of freshwater springs in the world. The abundance of groundwater and water naturally flowing out to the surface makes this rural area a perfect destination for recreational activities like fishing, hunting, and world class diving for locals and tourists. This area is also known for agriculture. Poultry and dairy once dominated the industry, but today agricultural producers tend to grow diversified crops like corn, cotton, peanuts, winter vegetables, and specialty crops like carrots. Like most places in Florida, the population in Suwanee Valley increases by the day. Unique to this place, agriculture here is predicted to grow as water restrictions expand throughout other parts of Florida.
During an introductory presentation by Hugh Thomas, Executive Director of the Suwannee River Water Management District and NRLI Alumus, we Fellows faced the fact that demand on the water resources over time has led to significant water quantity and water quality issues. Most of the springs in this area are impaired for nutrients, specifically nitrogen. As our class figuratively, and for some springs swimmers literally, dove into these issues, we were frequently struck by themes of limited public knowledge about agricultural practices and food systems. Through panel discussions, guest speakers, and our own admittance, it quickly became apparent that many people are out of touch with where their food comes from. More so, that many of those out-of-touch are also assigning blame to critical agricultural systems throughout Florida for the state's water quality and water quantity problems. For many, agriculture is seen as the culprit of the issues because of over-irrigation and over fertilization. As Hugh Thomas enlightened us, "Perception isn't always fact, but it's often reality".
Throughout the session we learned about shareworthy agency initiatives and cooperative groups working to address these issues.
The Suwannee River Valley Partnership is a cooperative group comprised of agriculture, water management, and environmentalists. Since 1999 they have been working together to identify management strategies and projects that protect and conserve the water resources within the Suwannee River Water but also balance the interests of the environmentalists and the agricultural community.
The Santa Fe Springs Protection Forum was created by concerned citizens to create an opportunity for government officials, professionals, and the public to discuss the issues and solutions to protecting their local springs. Stacie Greco is the Water Conservation Coordinator at Alachua County Environmental Protection Department and served on our NRLI panel this session. She coordinates open-to-the-public quarterly meetings for the working group and not only shared insight into springs protection, but also the challenges and triumphs of facilitating such a large, diverse group so frequently. Stacie shared with us the power of building relationships outside of problems, so that working groups like hers can maintain cohesion when moving through tough discussions.
The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) has several district programs in place to help protect water resources in Suwanee Valley such as Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs), Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) plans, and Water Supply Plans. MFLs help the districts find balance between anthropogenic water supply needs and sustaining healthy natural systems for rivers and springs by establishing the limit at which further water withdrawals cause significant harm. SWIM plans address anthropogenic impacts on water resources and identify water quality and natural systems restoration projects. Water Supply Plans help the district ensure there is suitable water supply for existing and projected usage by looking at their water-use permitting, water resource plans, and development projects.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has developed the Suwanee River Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) with the cooperation of local stakeholders and other agencies to restore springs water quality via different management strategies such as permit limits on wastewater facilities, urban and agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs), septic tank retrofits, septic to sewer conversions, and education. Within a BMAP, agricultural producers must adopt and implement BMPs OR conduct water quality monitoring and demonstrate they are not having an impact on the water quality resources. Unlike the management strategies identified by the Suwannee River Valley Partnership, the BMAP is adopted by rule and therefore enforcement can be taken upon stakeholders.
While the issues are daunting, these diverse groups and action plans, often having NRLI alum scattered throughout them, were inspiring and empowering.
To make sure that we fellows of NRLI Class XVIII are ready to continue playing a successful role in these dynamic issues, we spent this session tackling curriculum on integrative negotiation, meaningful meetings, and difficult communication styles and group dynamics. Fellow Karen Schlatter single-handedly facilitated two hours of Cornwallis By The Sea negotiation as Fellows took on the roles of diverse stakeholders trying to solve solid waste issues in an ecologically sensitive and residential area. Fellows shared insights from meetings they've observed this winter, from the painfully ineffective to the seamlessly pleasant. Fellows raised their hands to own up to personal communication styles that probably bug people and learned of processes like 3 Step Intervention to turn things around when group dynamics are crashing. Would you like us to repeat this over and over again, or how about criticize without offering constructive suggestions? No, as NRLI Fellows we have been taught and even have practiced better, and we walk away from every session remembering that when in doubt - supply snacks!
Aside from the resurgence of spring allergies sniffling their way through the group, our class left this session with incredibly impactful takeaways, as always. We leave you with these bullet points to continue 'diving into', because this session certainly showed us the power of our NRLI network and we're thankful for that strength as we continue chewing on these issues. We'll also take some inspiration from the energy of all those squirrels storing away sweet gum goodies around our last meeting place in beautiful Live Oak!
- The challenges faced by agricultural producers aren't limited to water, but also extend into issues of climate change, stock market, pests, engineering, competition, costs, and perhaps a most common theme of maintaining their heritage. Do you know where your food comes from and how that source may change?
- As more water is needed for increased agriculture and increasing population, how do we balance the needs of sustaining a population and protecting water resources?
- Storytelling is a critical communication tool for springs advocates and farmers alike. Have you heard their stories? How do you tell your own story?
Spotlight on Class XVIII Fellows
Planning Technical Lead
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District
Ashleigh Fountain is a Planning Technical Lead with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in Jacksonville District who works on federal navigation and coastal storm risk management (otherwise known as beach nourishment) projects in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Ashleigh also leads the planning efforts for hurricane evacuation studies with the National Hurricane Program and regional sediment management efforts for the Jacksonville District. Prior to her current position, she was a Biologist for both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Regulatory Division with the USACE in the Baltimore District. However, her self-proclaimed, most challenging professional endeavor was as a high school Biology and Physics teacher and, as such, her respect for those impassioned individuals in the education field will never be diminished.
As a Florida native, Ashleigh has lived most of her life near the coast except for when she went off to study at Florida State University and worked in Washington, D.C. for a few years. She then decided she was just a little too far from the ocean and returned back to Florida where she resides with her husband and two children in Ponte Vedra.
Senior Wildlife Assistance Biologist
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Catherine Kennedy is a Senior Wildlife Assistance Biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission celebrating her sixth year with the agency. Her work seeks to minimize adverse impacts of wildlife on human populations by promoting wildlife awareness and education to make coexistence with native species possible.
Hailing originally from North Carolina, Catherine is a graduate of Western Carolina University and holds bachelor's degrees in anthropology and biology. Prior to relocating to Florida, her travels led her to employment as an avian field technician, a lead draftsperson at an architectural firm, and a producer and photographer for a conservation media company which she later purchased. Catherine has lived within four major U.S. mountain ranges; she is an avid backpacker, botanist, and outdoorswoman who has found the paddling and outdoors opportunities provided by Florida's waterways and beaches to be exhilarating and restorative.
Catherine lives in Gainesville, Florida and after work can often be found either at the Alachua County Public Library with arms overflowing or curled up somewhere with one of the aforementioned volumes. When not buried in a novel, she enjoys biking, birding, paddling, pottery, yoga, traveling, and beach time with her favorite mutt, Beethoven.
South Region Land Manager
St. Johns River Water Management District
Amy Copeland is the South Region Land Manager for the St. Johns River Water Management District. She has been with the District for 5 years, serving first as a Land Management Specialist in the District's South Central Region prior to accepting her current role. Her region includes over 171,000 acres of freshwater marsh and upland natural communities on 7 different conservation areas that encapsulate and buffer the headwaters of the St. Johns River in Indian River, Osceola, and Brevard Counties. She is responsible for implementing large scale natural community maintenance and restoration for the region, primarily with the application of prescribed fire and vegetation management projects. Amy is also responsible for managing extensive public recreational use in the region.
Amy earned a B.S. in Forest Resources and Conservation from the University of Florida. She began her career serving 3 years as a red-cockaded woodpecker biologist for the Florida Forest Service on the Blackwater River and Goethe State Forests. Amy also served 9 years as a District Biologist and District Fire Coordinator for the Florida Park Service in the Central Florida area.
Class XVIII Fellows
County Extension Director; Extension Agent IV-Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension
Environmental Administrator, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Agricultural Water Policy
Research Assistant Professor, Wildlife Ecology & Conservation, Everglades Research and Education Center, University of Florida/IFAS
Communications Manager, PhD Student, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Florida
Amy Copeland, South Region Land Manager
, St. Johns River Water Management District
Environmental Consultant, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Agricultural Water Policy
Assistant Director, Conservation Florida
Biologist-Planning Technical Lead, Coastal Navigation Section, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District
Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Forest Service
Captain, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Senior Wildlife Assistance Biologist, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Land Management Program Manager, Suwannee River Water Management District
Deputy Director, Division of Water Resource Management, Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Fish and Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Ashley Pardee, Assistant, Wetland Preserve LLC
Director of Marketing, Florida Farm Bureau Federation
Assistant Research Scientist, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Associate Director, Colorado River Delta Program, Sonoran Institute
Public Hunting Areas Biologist, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Environmental Specialist III, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Agricultural Water Policy
Wildlife Refuge Specialist, Southwest Florida Gulf Coast Refuge Complex, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Lily Swanbrow Becker, Climate
Adaptation Coordinator, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Erica Waller, Environmental Educator
Class XVIII Schedule
|August 22-24, 2018
||Coastal Erosion & Community Resilience
|September 26-28, 2018
||Endangered Species: The Future of the Florida Panther
|October 17-19, 2018
||Fisheries Management: Red Snapper
|November 14-16, 2018
||Sea Level Rise: Threats to & Solutions for Urban Areas
|January 23-25, 2019
||Changing Dynamics in Agriculture & Rural Communities
|February 20-22, 2019
||Water Quality: Springs & Agriculture
|March 20-22, 2019
April 10-12, 2019
|Graduation & Practicum Presentations