Publications and videos
In this section
The District offers a variety of information to help you learn about water conservation, the District’s work, water resource protection and water quality. Most District materials have been designed as electronic download documents so you can access information quickly.
Our multimedia section offers a variety of ways to learn about the District’s work: through photographs, informational videos, computer wallpaper and slide shows.
In the course of their work, District scientists and other environmental professionals study a host of water-related topics and prepare technical reports on their findings. See an overview of each report published by the District.
A new twist to ‘field office’
Agricultural Assistance Team works closely with the agricultural community to help with permitting paperwork while protecting water resources
Dorothy Hansen was worried. Her late husband, Daniel, used to take care of paperwork at their fernery in Pierson, the quaint town in Volusia County that is known throughout the area as the “Fern Capital of the World.”
Hansen’s consumptive use permits (CUPs) from the St. Johns River Water Management District were set to expire and she was overwhelmed by the prospect of renewing them.
District Ag Team member Vince Singleton (left) talks with Eric Hjort about the new pivot irrigation system that was installed at a Hastings area farm.
“I hate filling out forms,” says the 72-year-old grower, who opened the fernery with her late husband in 1967. “I always read them and do the wrong thing. I was even willing to go to the District’s headquarters in Palatka and throw myself at their mercy.”
Fortunately, Hansen didn’t need to go to such extremes. She had heard from other growers at the Central Florida Fern Cooperative that the District’s permitting process had become more interactive. In fact, District staff would even come to her farm and help fill out the forms, they told her.
Sure enough, the District’s Agricultural Assistance Team traveled to her fernery to help her fill out the permit renewal forms, completing the process under a pole barn in less than an afternoon.
“This was relaxing,” Hansen says. “This has been beneficial for me. We used to have to drive all the way to Palatka to fill out the necessary paperwork.”
Growers throughout the region are echoing Hansen’s sentiments about the District’s Ag Team, which formed two years ago with the goal of assisting growers with CUPs and environmental resource permits (ERPs), which are required for some agricultural operations. The Ag Team helps simplify and accelerate the permitting process, reduces permitting duplication, provides technical assistance and helps growers comply with permits. More important, the team has improved relationships between the District and growers.
“Before the Ag program started, farmers were critical of the District,” says Vince Singleton, who oversees the District’s Ag Team program. “Since the inception of the program, it has been just the opposite. Growers appreciate our help so much. There’s a more cooperative spirit with the farming community than there was in the past.”
Singleton specializes in the ERP side of the program, which addresses the building of stormwater ponds, canal systems or wetland impacts.
District staff member Vince Singleton enjoys working with area farmers.
“Part of my job is to inform growers about the District’s rules and help them avoid wetland impacts at all so they won’t need an ERP,” Singleton says. “Many times we have been successful in doing that.”
A big part of the success of the team is its approach to working with growers, be they thousand-acre potato farms in St. Johns County or small growers like Hansen, whose fern operation encompasses 15 acres.
Singleton comes from a farming family. He knows all of the farmers in St. Johns, Flagler and Putnam counties, collectively known as the tri-county agricultural area.
“There is a language that farmers speak. Most of us don’t speak that language,” Singleton says. “I show an interest because I am interested.”
“I can easily talk the language whether it’s livestock, row crops, citrus cattle or sod,” he says. “Knowing how to converse with farmers breaks down a lot of walls.”
In his District role, Singleton wears many hats. He assists the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) in determining whether a grower’s proposed project is exempt from ERP requirements.
“We don’t want to make it difficult on farmers,” he says. “People in the farming community are hearing about our efforts and are pleased.”
Singleton also promotes the District’s agricultural program by traveling throughout the District’s 18-county area to meet with agricultural groups and explain the services the District can offer them.
In addition, Singleton is a technical adviser for the District’s Agricultural Advisory Board, which hears growers’ needs and concerns about District policies and issues.
“Farming isn’t easy,” says Singleton, who has logged 29 years with the District. “I enjoy taking on challenges and resolving them.”
CUPs comprise the majority of farmers’ permit application and renewal requests. David McInnes is the Ag Team’s Environmental Resource Coordinator, the person responsible for assisting growers through the CUP process.
“Prior to the advent of the Ag Team, when people applied for a permit, they were given an application and told to fill it out,” McInnes says. “I was told by agricultural people that they were given very little assistance.”
“I’ve worked across dinner tables, under shade trees, under pole barns, sitting on the backs of trucks. People are comfortable in their own homes.”
— David McInnes, District environmental resource coordinator and Ag Team member
Part of the confusion, says McInnes, was that the application served as a catchall for water uses, ranging from golf course irrigation to farming. Sections of the application didn’t apply to growers who “didn’t know they didn’t have to fill out a lot of the application,” he says.
“Most of our customers don’t realize that if basic information doesn’t need updating, most of the permit renewal work is already done,” McInnes says. “The computer will automatically populate the application with existing information.”
These days, McInnes contacts growers directly and offers assistance. He’s found that some farmers tend to avoid using computers or don’t even own one and lack the experience necessary to apply for a District permit online. McInnes quells anxiety farmers might have for electronic permitting or “e-permitting” by bringing his own laptop and printer. Such was the case when he helped Hansen renew two CUPs.
“I have a computer in the house but I never turn it on,” Hansen says. “I don’t even have an email address. If people need to get in touch with me, they can call me.”
Beneath the shade of a pole barn, falling acorns banging its metal roof, McInnes and a District permit reviewer, Phil Benson, ask Hansen about her water conservation habits. They delve into technical questions about her irrigation system and wells.
“Water conservation measures are discussed as part of the permit renewal,” McInnes explains. “I ask a grower how he or she determines when crops need water. If the grower describes kicking dirt or looking for wilted leaves to determine dryness, he or she is actually using methods described in the conservation plan.”
McInnes and Benson use Hansen’s responses to fill out the water conservation plan, which is part of the online application on McInnes’ laptop computer. Later, Hansen signs a completed form printed from a portable printer resting on the tailgate of McInnes’ pickup truck.
“We’ll apply online for the growers,” he says. “We know what information needs to be filled out.”
Phil Benson, a District environmental scientist, reads the meter on a water supply pipe in the fernery of Dorothy Hansen as part of the process to complete and submit a renewal for a consumptive use permit.
Often, a permit reviewer, such as Benson, will accompany McInnes when he visits a farmer. The on-site visit affords the reviewer the luxury of examining the project site or irrigation wells firsthand. As a result, the application process and review can be accomplished at once, avoiding follow-up calls and visits that can be costly to both the farmer and the District. The result: Permits are issued in a few days instead of weeks.
“It saves us money on travel,” McInnes says. “It saves farmers from having to deal with several visits from us. Farmers are always busy. They’re growing, buying, selling, planting or repairing equipment. There’s no idle time for farmers.”
McInnes has found that on-site visits render the permitting process less intimidating for growers.
“I’ve worked across dinner tables, under shade trees, under pole barns, sitting on the backs of trucks,” McInnes says. “People are comfortable in their own homes.”
In addition to onsite visits, the Ag Team offers other services and tools to help farmers reduce operating costs, such as creating spreadsheets to help growers monitor water use based on their monthly electric bills. In turn, this information helps the District track agricultural water use in the region.
Every three years, growers are required to have water flow meters calibrated, a regulation that can cost a grower $300 or more for each well.
“If a farmer has 30 wells, the cost for calibration can be expensive,” Singleton says. “We have a mobile irrigation lab that will calibrate the wells for them.”
Adds McInnes: “The benefit of providing a calibration service is that we get better data. About half of farmers are overreporting water use because their pumps aren’t working as efficiently as when they were new.”
Rik Davis, a Volusia County grower who is also on the District’s Agriculture Advisory Committee, is one of the biggest supporters of the Ag Team. He admits that he was initially “stressed out knowing the Ag Team was coming” to assist him with his CUP application. He needed to update his permit because his needs had changed from irrigating cut foliage to specializing in olives and pastures.
Davis was skeptical when the owner of another, much larger, farm told him the Ag Team had distilled the application process into a simple task.
“He told me it was easy,” Davis recalls. “And it was. It used to be that when you filled out an application form you had to gather a lot of data. You had to search the District’s website for some of the information. When the Ag Team came out, they filled out the forms for me. I answered a few questions and signed the necessary papers. It was easy.”
Davis’ endorsement adds clout to the program. He is well known in the fernery industry and is involved in agriculture-based organizations.
“The last few years, growers have seen improvements from the District,” he says. “I think the Ag Team is great. I’ve been advising my growers not to hesitate to contact them.”
Visit floridaswater.com/agriculture for more information about the District’s tools to assist the agricultural community.
David McInnes, an Ag Team member, shows Dorothy Hansen how certain portions of a permit application automatically update based on an applicant’s original application submission.