By Robert Knight. The Gainesville Sun, May 10, 2022
Our local springs are both polluted with excess nitrogen and depleted due to excessive groundwater withdrawals. So why would city and county commissioners, elected to ensure a healthy future in Alachua County, support more development that will make a bad springs problem worse?
The ongoing discussion of the development of the Lee property on Parker Road is the spark that has ignited this criticism of the county/city leadership status quo. Preliminary reports indicate that the 4,000-acre, undeveloped property might include two new golf courses and hundreds of new homes and residents.
By proposing this plan, it appears that the owners wish to reap the property value benefits of their grandfather’s 1950s land purchase. In a shamelessly capitalistic society, who can blame them?
But golf courses and intensive urban development pose acute threats to the Floridan Aquifer and our local springs. The water and fertilizer used by a golf course on a highly vulnerable karst landscape will cause aquifer impacts comparable to an intensive dairy operation. Urban development, both commercial and high-density residential, will consume more groundwater (less spring flow) and create more fertilizer and human wastewater (more springs nitrogen pollution and noxious algae).
Does Gainesville really need more golf courses or intensive development? I can tell you the springs and their native biota do not need any more golf courses or condos.
At a more local level, Gainesville does need more quail, fox squirrels and gopher tortoises that will likely be displaced by the proposed project. And the springs that feed the Santa Fe River need more recharge and clean groundwater to replace the flows they have already lost.
While the Lee family loves this property, they have embarked on a path that, with government sanction, will inevitably reduce wildlife habitat in Alachua County and further deplete and pollute regional groundwater resources. As an alternative, perhaps they might consider joining the many proud land owners in Alachua County who have donated or sold their property to the county or a land trust for a reasonable return while preserving its natural values into perpetuity.
On a positive note, the Lee property offers a win-win-win opportunity for the city, county and Lee family. I suggest that the city buy the Lee property for a reasonable sum and convert a portion of it to a groundwater recharge wetland comparable to the Sweetwater Wetlands Park.
The city currently discharges up to 10 million gallons of partially treated municipal wastewater down a deep well directly into the potable Floridan Aquifer. That water contains elevated concentrations of nitrogen, the principal pollutant impairing our region’s springs. While Gainesville Regional Utilities is already planning a smaller recharge wetland nearby, the 75-acre site is not sufficiently large to handle the wastewater generated in west Gainesville.