Florida’s newest fight over water, which is drawing attention from across the state, centers on cherished springs near Ocala made famous by glass-bottom boats and Tarzan movies.
Canadian auto-parts magnate Frank Stronach asked in December for a permit that would allow him to drill into the state’s underground aquifer near famed Silver Springs in Marion County — and pump as much water as a medium-sized city uses each day — so he can develop a ranch capable of sustaining 30,000 head of cattle.
The fight pits several groups of volunteers and their cash donations against a billionaire businessman and, potentially, the taxpayer-funded agency that issues water-use permits in Central and North Florida.
Yet it may not be a mismatch, for environmentalists statewide have taken notice of the controversy and view it as a unifying flash point. A major rally in support of the springs is set for Saturday.
“For decades, environmentalists have negotiated the best deal possible for natural Florida, and that approach, while it certainly has stalled total destruction, has not saved our resources long-term,” said Karen Ahlers, a longtime Ocklawaha River advocate in Putnam County. “In many cases we’ve waited too long to draw a line in the sand. If not now, when?”
Ahlers has already enlisted the Southern Legal Council in Gainesville in her drive to sue the St. Johns River Water Management District once it posts a notice of its intent to give Stronach a permit.