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StreamLines
Understanding the value of water

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In this issue

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A fishing story

Ongoing project is improving water quality one fish at a time.

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Corking abandoned wells

District program helps cap abandoned wells, save billions of gallons of water.

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Helping others

Surplus donation program helps communities in need throughout the district.

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Today’s STEM leaders encourage others

District highlights women working in science, technology, engineering and math.

Wayne Collier worked with the district’s abandoned artesian well plugging program to cap an old well on his farmland.

Put a cork in it — and save billions of gallons of water in the process

By Ed Garland

Wayne Collier is not a man who prescribes to wasteful habits. The tomato-and-citrus farmer’s trusty Ford pickup truck embodies his value system. The odometer displays 455,000 miles so far, and Collier plans to “drive the wheels off of it.”

“When I bought this truck, I told her I’d take care of her,” he says. “When you lie to your truck, the next thing you know, you start lying to people.”

It was no surprise, then, that Collier was distraught to find an abandoned artesian well gushing on his family’s 54-acre property in the hinterlands of western Vero Beach. The decades-old well, once used for irrigating citrus trees, was flowing at an estimate 700 gallons per minute, 24 hours a day.

“We don’t need to be wasting that water,” Collier says. “It’s a wonderful resource. People are going to keep coming down to Florida and we’re going to need that resource in the future.”

Fixing the problem well was cost-prohibitive, especially for a grower whose citrus trees had largely succumbed to a disease known as “greening.” But Collier’s hopes brightened when he learned of the St. Johns River Water Management District’s abandoned artesian well plugging program.

“Mr. Collier was beside himself,” says district Hydrologist Wesley Curtis, who led the program from the mid-1990s though 2016. “He felt horrible about the waste of water. He told us that the district really came to his rescue.”

Collier’s dilemma is not uncommon throughout the district’s 18-county jurisdiction. Agriculture is a staple in many regions, and tens of thousands of artesian wells are the lifeblood of row crop, cattle and citrus growers. An artesian well (also known as a free-flowing well) is a well that has been drilled into an aquifer in a location where the underground pressure is great enough for the water to rise inside the well. Wells can be a cheap source of water because the pressure can sometimes be strong enough to send the water to the surface without the aid of a pump.

Times change. Land uses change. Abandoned wells deteriorate over time. Sometimes they’re simply found to be improperly constructed. Regardless of the scenario, free-flowing wells can have an adverse impact on the quantity and quality of water in Florida’s underground water supplies, known as aquifers, or nearby surface water bodies.

“Our goal is to assist well owners in complying with Florida law that requires well owners to control discharges by properly plugging wells and limiting flows to the amount needed for an intended use,” says Gary Foster, a district hydrologist who currently leads the well plugging program. “We encourage public participation in identifying problems and actively work with other agencies, local governments and the public to detect, evaluate and control artesian wells.”

Since the 1990s, the district has plugged more than 2,522 wells, resulting in the conservation of an estimated 697 million gallons of water a day.

“Our agency’s well plugging program has an immediate and direct impact on our water resources,” says St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “The prevention of waste is obvious and proper well plugging can also prevent contaminants from entering our water supply. As a well ages, deterioration of the well casing can allow poor quality water to move upward into the fresher zones we use for drinking water.”

Costs to abandon a well can vary depending on the size and depth of the well and the plugging method required, but the average cost is approximately $6,000. In some cases, the district and the well owner share the costs; in some cases, the district pays the entire cost. The process of abandoning a well involves a site visit and well inventory, correspondence with the land owner and governments to formalize participation, temporarily capping the well, geophysical logging of the well, and permanent well abandonment by a licensed well contractor.

Abandoned wells are plugged by pumping grout through a PVC pipe or drill rod, which is lowered to the bottom of a well. The cement is pumped until it reaches land surface.

Collier says the program enabled him to continue to be a good steward of the land.

“It’s a good life, but it’s a demanding life,” Collier says of agriculture. “Every year, we’re producing less and our costs go up. The people of St. Johns are wonderful. They did everything first class and quickly. The well plugging was well-done and well-managed.”

For additional information on the program, cost-share for abandoning a well or to notify the district of a free-flowing well, please call 386-329-4570.

Read more about abandoned wells online at www.sjrwmd.com/abandonedwells.

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