War Over Water and Caviar in Jackson County

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Sneads - Sturgeon Aquafarms, which is located on a secluded piece of land in Bascom, wants to make Jackson County the caviar capital of the world. But in order to do it, they want to withdraw up to 7.2 million gallons of water a day from the Floridan Aquifer.

Northwest Florida Water Management District says 6 to 8 months of testing is needed before they can make a decision on the company's application.

Jackson County residents think something is fishy. They had tough questions for Aquafarms executives during a meeting Thursday at Sneads City Hall.

"Seven million, per day, if you're allowed, is well exceeding what we're allowed as it is” said one concerned resident. “We're contributing to our community. Whether it be peanuts, whether it be cotton, whether it be corn, soybeans, watermelons- we're contributing. I don't see where the contribution is coming from- from you- with the caviar.”

The operation is by no means a small one. There are more sturgeon at the company’s farm in Bascom than in the entire Caspian Sea. And, Bascom is the only place in the entire northern hemisphere that has all four of the highly sought after species.

Currently, the company employs 15 locals and said that number could potential grow.

"All the product that will come from here," said Robert Castro, Marketing Manager for Sturgeon AquaFarms. "All the caviar, all the sturgeon meat, will all be labeled proudly packaged in Bascom, Florida - Product of the USA."

"But sir, we can't afford [caviar]. Can anyone in the room...” one community member laughed.

"No! No one in this room can afford to eat your caviar" another audience member answered before a third chimed in amongst the laughter, "There are no millionaires in Bascom! We can’t afford it! We eat mullet!"

Timothy Skipper organized the community meeting. He explained, "every dollar that is spent at the local grocery store here usually changes hands four times before it leaves our community. So where is all this money going? It's not going to be in Jackson County."

Apart from the economic standpoint, citizens were concerned that drawing such a large amount of water, from a source of unknown size was a dangerous gamble.

"My biggest concern is that our local aquifer just drop out, all of our wells are going to be high and dry and everyone’s going to have to come out of pocket anywhere between $1500 and $4000 to drill a new well" Skipper said.

But Aqua Farm reps told us they too were environmentally minded.
"Currently, 90% of what is taken out is put back in daily” Castro said. If anything, we would like to optimize it more so we could increase our recirculation or recharge rate."

After hours of discussion, most seemed to leave at least a little more informed than when they came.

"The Sturgeon farm people said they were looking into doing filtration systems and recycling the water and not having to pump as much” Skipper said.

"Our biggest take away more importantly is that we speak to our neighbors, talk to our neighbors, invite them to the farm, and that we really become an active member of the community” Castro told us. “I know that collectively we can come up with an optimal solution on how we can proceed so that our sturgeon aqua farms are a success, but also that to city of Bascom is a success without in any way shape or form compromising the environment."

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