Meeting Summary: Lower Flint-Ochlockonee Council January 19, 2017

Meeting Summary

Lower Flint-Ochlockonee Regional Water Council Meeting

Riverfront Resource Center – Albany, GA

January 19, 2017

Remembrance of Vice-Chair Hal Haddock and Moment of Silence

At the opening of the meeting, Chairman Richard Royal offered some remembrances of Hal Haddock, who was a Council member and Vice-Chair. Chairman Royal asked the Council to observe a moment of silence and then offered a benediction.

Welcome and Agenda Review

Lower Flint-Ochlockonee Chair Richard Royal welcomed Council members and observers to the meeting and thanked everyone for their attendance. Kristin Rowles (GWPPC) then reviewed the meeting agenda and objectives.

Vice-Chair Selection

Mike Newberry nominated Jimmy Webb to serve as Vice Chair of the Lower Flint-Ochlockonee Regional Water Council. John Heath offered a second. There were no further nominations. The Council elected Jimmy Webb as Vice Chair by consensus.

Surface Water Availability Resource Assessment Results

Dr. Gail Cowie and Dr. Wei Zeng (GAEPD) reviewed the results from the surface water availability resource assessment (slides available). Topics discussed included a review of the surface water availability assessment methods and results for both current and future water demands.

Council discussion on the surface water resource assessment addressed the following:

  • Clarification was given that the surface water assessment results incorporate operations per the recently issued final US Army Corps of Engineers Water Control Manual for the ACF.
  • Responding to a Council member’s question, Dr. Cowie responded that GAEPD is comfortable with the reliability of the agricultural water meter data that was used in compiling the water demands analyzed in the resource assessments. Dr. Zeng echoed Dr. Cowie’s comments and offered that the meter data provides a robust sample of agricultural water use across the state. Mark Masters (GWPPC) also provided additional information on the use of metering data in the agricultural water demand forecast and resource assessments. Several Council members suggested additional improvements for the meter data and meter program administration.
  • Following a Council member’s question, Dr. Cowie clarified the definition of a potential “gap” for the surface water availability resource assessment. She reported that a potential gap occurs when modeled streamflow falls below a threshold drawn from the state instream flow policy, after offstream demands are met. The threshold from the instream flow policy, which was adopted by the Board of Natural Resources in 2001, is monthly 7Q10 or natural inflow, whichever is lower. This threshold is being used as the metric for this assessment statewide. It was selected as the best available information on which to base the instream component of the assessment during the first round of regional water planning.  Dr. Cowie offered that GAEPD is interested in basin-specific information on instream flow thresholds for use in future water planning.
  • In response to a Council member’s question, Brain Bandy (ARCADIS) reported that farm pond data used in the resource assessment was based on surveys of farm ponds that ranged in size from a few acres up to 50-60 acres.
  • In response to a Council member’s question, Dr. Cowie reported that the percentage or number of days when a potential gap is present reflects time when streamflow falls below the threshold based on the state’s instream flow policy (discussed above).

Groundwater Availability Assessment Results

Dr. Gail Cowie and Dr. Jim Kennedy (GAEPD) reviewed the results from the groundwater availability resource assessment (slides available). Topics discussed included groundwater resource availability compared with current and projected demands as well as additional groundwater studies recently completed on the Claiborne Aquifer.  It was noted that transient modeling, which considers month-to-month variation in conditions, has been done to evaluate the impacts of withdrawals.  However, that modeling needs to be updated with the results of the recently-completed Claiborne studies, and that will not be complete before June.

Council discussion on the groundwater resource assessment addressed the following:

  • A Council member asked what it meant that it appears that there is a gap for the Upper Floridan Aquifer in the Dougherty Plain. Dr. Cowie said that generally resource assessment gaps identify resources at which the Councils need to look more closely in their planning. Dr. Kennedy explained that while the Upper Floridan in the Dougherty Plain could likely sustain withdrawals or use beyond the current and projected demand, the impact to stream baseflow is the metric that limits the modeled sustainable yield. He noted that when the model indicated a 40% impact to stream baseflow, the maximum drawdown of the aquifer was approximately six feet.
  • A Council member commented that he farms in an area where the Upper Floridan is very thin, and in that area, streams were dry and the aquifer had significant drawdown in 2016. He commented that the Floridan Aquifer may be able to sustain demand on average, but the impacts on certain parts of the aquifer, particularly near the edge, may be substantial.
  • A Council member commented that the regional water plan should provide a better explanation on what the groundwater availability resource assessments gap indicates, particularly in the case of the Upper Floridan where the gap relates to impacts on stream baseflow and not impacts to the aquifer. Dr. Cowie offered that GAEPD has drafted language for all Councils to review that addresses the purposes of the assessments.
  • A Council member requested clarification on the high end sustainable yield estimate for the Claiborne. Dr. Cowie responded that the high end estimate was based on a hypothetical distribution of new wells in the Claiborne. She offered that the numbers for Claiborne sustainable yield may change once the modeling is updated to incorporate the results from the recently-completed Claiborne studies.
  • A Council member asked about the cost of a typical Claiborne well. Another Council member indicated that the Claiborne well (500 gallons per minute) recently installed at the Stripling Irrigation Park was approximately $150,000. It was noted that the costs of Claiborne wells were substantially higher than Upper Floridan wells, and cost could limit use of this aquifer as an alternative supply source.

Updates on Water Resource Topics and Planning Items in Region

Kristin Rowles asked the Council members if they had questions about water resource topics of interest in the region. Regarding the on-going Supreme Court litigation between Florida and Georgia, Dr. Cowie (GAEPD) reported that the trial phase of the SCOTUS litigation (Florida v. Georgia No. 142 Original) is over, and the Special Master’s opinion is pending. A final ruling from the full Supreme Court is not anticipated until late 2017 or 2018.

Council member discussion addressed the following:

  • A Council member asked if Florida and Georgia are engaged in negotiation per the Special Master’s Case Management Order. This information was not available, but it was noted that the Special Master has ordered the parties to report back on negotiations by January 26.
  • A Council member asked about how uncertainty over the litigation affects the regional water planning process in this region. Dr. Cowie offered that regional water planning is a statewide process that is continuing as scheduled, and there are provisions that allow for revisions to the regional water plans as needed.

Dr. Cowie also updated the Council on the Section 319 Special Project grants. She said that a subcommittee of the Council had assisted in identifying the project partner (Golden Triangle Resource Conservation and Development Council) and the project focus area (Aucilla River Basin).

Lunch Break

Project Report: Water Supply Alternatives for Surface Water Agricultural Irrigators in Ichawaynochaway Sub-Basin and Discussion of Results Relevant to Plan Update

Mark Masters and Doug Wilson (GWPPC) then reported on a project looking at groundwater alternatives for agricultural surface water irrigators in the Ichawaynochaway Basin (slides available). The project was done with the support of a regional water plan implementation seed grant, and it addresses a recommendation in the plans of the Middle Chattahoochee, Upper Flint, and Lower Flint-Ochlockonee Councils. In general, the study has indicated that there is potential to replace some surface water withdrawals with groundwater sources in the region, but additional research on site specific conditions and potential impacts would need to be evaluated and considered. Council member discussion on the presentation addressed the following:

  • A Council member asked about the accuracy of the well logs that were used as one source of historical aquifer data for the project. Mr. Wilson responded that most of the logs that were confirmed via field mapping were relatively accurate. He said that during the project, the GWPPC did find some well logs that likely were incorrect.
  • A Council member commented that many farmers that use surface water as a source originally decided to use that source based on cost effectiveness compared to developing groundwater. He commented that conversion to groundwater may be an option, but it could be costly. Mr. Wilson added that beyond the costs for a well, a farmer is likely to also need to modify infrastructure to supply water where it is needed (e.g., from the well to the field). This will add to the cost.
  • Responding to a Council member’s question, Dr. Cowie responded that the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) demonstration project at Elmodel cost around $1 million, but that cost included research and design costs, as well as the costs of test wells. The yields from the test wells were not sufficient to continue development of the project. Amanda Carroll (GEFA) commented that it is possible that the low yields observed might be related to the drilling technology used. It was also noted that the yields observed across the region are quite variable.

Plan Update: Priorities, Schedule, and Process

Kristin Rowles next reviewed the process and agenda for completing the draft revised Upper Flint Regional Water Plan by the end of March (slides available). Below is the schedule of meetings. She also discussed the major plan elements to be reviewed and revised, and these are summarized below.

Next, Kristin reviewed the Council’s priorities for the review and revision process. She noted the possible need for committee work to meet the planning timeline. She said that she will be sending plan revisions based on today’s discussions for Council consideration at the next Council meeting. Kristin said that she expects that the next pre-meeting packet, with these revisions for review, will be sent to the Council around February 1st.

MAJOR PLAN ELEMENTS – REVIEW & REVISION

Vision and Goals

Section 1

February meeting

Forecasts and Resource Assessments

Sections 3, 4,  & 5

Revise to reflect updates in technical information

Management Practices

Section 6

Review and revise at January and February meetings

Recommendations

Section 7.4

Other Content

Sections 2, 7 & 8

Revise based on changes to Management Practices and updated technical information

Small Group Discussions – Review of Priority Management Practices and Recommendations

Next, Kristin asked the Council members to divide into small groups to discuss possible revisions to areas of the plan that relate to today’s presentations regarding surface water and groundwater availability. These groups focused on Management Practices (Section 6) and Recommendations to the State (Section 7.4).  Hand-outs of these sections were provided for the small group discussions.

Kristin said that the group facilitators have notes on areas of these sections to focus on based on the Council’s 2015 Revision and Revision Priorities Report, 2014 Implementation Assessment Report, the updated resource assessment results, and recent Council discussions. The objective for the break-out group discussions was to get input on how to modify these parts of the plan. The input will provide guidance to the consultant team to draft revisions. Council decisions on the revisions will be taken up at the next meeting.

The first group focused on the Management Practices in Section 6.  Based on the small group discussion, the following will be the main areas of focus for revisions for the Council to consider:

  • Modify the Water Quantity Management Practices that include the terms Tier 1 through Tier 4 to describe conservation measures. It would be preferable to avoid the use of these terms, which rely on reference to another document
  • For DM-1, add some summary data collected on conservation in past 5 years. Technology has improved but not all farmers are adopting. Also, consider adding the term “implement” in the Management Practice description
  • For DM-2, delete the word “anticipated.
  • Combine DM-3 with DM-2 and add incentive language as a bullet point
  • Update DM-4 with new policy information and possibly combine with DM-5
  • For DM-5, update the text and add more general language on new technology without getting too specific. Keep the recommendation for Georgia Soil and Water Commission to renew incentives. Strengthen language focused on practice adoption; “utilize local soil and water districts to do more public outreach on conservation.” Also, GAEPD should do more to make users aware of new policy (e.g., 80% efficiency requirements)
  • Update DM-6 to reflect new/expanded permit moratorium
  • For DM-7, there was some disagreement, but the general sentiment was that more study is needed for quantification
  • Leave SF-1 as-is
  • Update SF-2 to reflect new data (i.e., Ichawaynochaway seed grant project; GEFA wells). An observer from USGS commented that updates to the information in Hydrologic Atlas 10 could inform the Ichawaynochaway seed grant project or guide future permitting.
  • Leave SF-3 as-is
  • Update SF-4 to reflecting ASR demonstration project at Elmodel. Change the practice to say “consider use” of ASR and may need to modify first bullet to reflect similar tone
  • Leave SF-5 as-is. Two Council members commented that the permitting and regulatory process governing farm pond construction needs clarity and could be streamlined.

The second group focused on the recommendations in Section 7.4 regarding Surface Water and Groundwater Availability related topics. Based on the small group discussion, the following will be the main areas of focus for revisions for the Council to consider:

Information Needs:

  • Update the Recommendations to reflect policy changes since 2011 (e.g., Flint River Drought Protection Act, drought management rules, revised WCM).
  • For the recommendation about agricultural water meters, change the last two bullet points to recommend continued reporting and use of the data to recognize that these actions have been initiated.
  • Add to the recommendations or the management practices a call for wider adoption of conservation practices, particularly in new systems, and enforcement of regulatory requirements that apply to such measures.
  • For the recommendation about evaluation of water conservation practices, add evaluation of adoption, as well as implementation and effectiveness. Also, change the wording to recommend that this type of evaluation continue in order to reflect recognition for work that has already been done on these topics.
  • Remove the recommendation regarding re-evaluating minimum flow requirements at Woodruff Dam given completion of the USACE FEIS. It was noted that this will also be removed from the joint recommendations because the Upper Flint and Middle Chattahoochee Councils are also removing it.
  • For the recommendation regarding farm pond evaluation, acknowledge some work has provided new information on this topic and change the wording to focus on continuation and expansion of this research.

Water Policy Recommendations:

In the recommendation regarding implementation funding (2nd bullet point), add federal funding sources, such as USDA, as an option to explore.

In the recommendation regarding interbasin transfers (IBTs), add text to encourage returns to the basin of origin for existing IBTs.

In the recommendation regarding the use of the resource assessments in permitting, the group indicated more confidence in the resource assessments.  Change the wording to reflect this by stating that any modifications in permitting practices should consider the updated surface water and groundwater availability resource assessment results. The group reviewed a related discussion in Section 5.4 (Gap Analysis) and suggested several modifications:

  • More discussion of the purpose of the resource assessments.
  • More discussion of the relationship between the results of the surface water availability assessment and the groundwater availability assessment for the Upper Floridan in the Dougherty Plain.
  • Move Item (c) on p. 5-9 out of the list and instead add explanation about how permitted use is addressed in the model to this section.
  • Delete the sentence about upstream withdrawals for reservoirs because the related assumptions have been updated in the model.
  • Modify the second sentence in the last paragraph of Section 5.4 to reflect the changes described regarding permitting practices.
  • For the recommendation regarding the Flint River Drought Protection Act, the recommendation should focus more on the need for better tools for drought management.

The remainder of the recommendations in Section 7.4 will be reviewed at the next Council meeting.

When the full Council meeting reconvened, Kristin said that the technical support staff would review Council member input and bring suggested edits to the plan at the next Council meeting. The revised sections for review will be shared with the Council in the pre-meeting packet on February 1. Kristin asked the Chair to appoint a committee to review the revisions based on today’s discussions.  The committee will include John Heath, Mike Newberry and David Dixon. Kristin will ask this committee to review the revisions in early February to identify any suggested further edits to discuss at the February 9th Council meeting.

Public Comment

There was no public comment.

Next Steps and Adjournment

Council Chair Richard Royal thanked members for attending and the meeting was adjourned.

Council Members Attending January 19, 2017 Meeting:

  • Richard Royal, Chair
  • Steve Bailey
  • Mike Newberry
  • Jimmy Champion
  • Connie Hobbs
  • John Heath
  • Jerry Lee
  • Huddy Hudgens
  • David Dixon
  • George McIntosh
  • Lucius Adkins