A group of Walton County residents have incorporated to form Safe Water for Walton Inc., a non-profit organization formed primarily for community opposition to a deep-injection well state permit submitted in Jackson County.
Jackson County's Springhill Landfill site collects garbage from across the panhandle. The landfill is operated by a private company, which is pursuing the state permit.
The Safe Water for Walton's short-term goal is to monitor and oppose the proposed state permit.
If approved, the permit would allow toxic landfill leachate to threaten the regional water basin, according to the organization.
Leachate is the poisonous liquid collected at the bottom of landfills that can contain known carcinogens and heavy metals, any one of which adversely impacts human organs and creates other chronic or terminal diseases. There is often no way to see or smell contaminants in drinking water, the group has noted. It is typically discovered after being tested.
The injection well is designed to inject landfill leachate more than 4,000 feet down an uncapped well and past at least two layers of freshwater aquifer layers.
Rivers, bayous, and creeks that flow into Walton County from the Florida state line would be affected, as would freshwater springs and the Choctawhatchee Bay, which covers 120 square miles and is fed by the Choctawhatchee River to the north.
The watershed encompasses all or parts of Walton, Okaloosa, Bay, Holmes, Washington, and Jackson counties. This interconnected watershed is Walton County's primary source of public drinking water to residents and businesses and the only water source for thousands of private wells across several counties.
"We all depend on safe drinking water," said founding board member Kelly Layman. "State and national water contamination crises in communities continue to grow, as do the clean up and legal bills."
Other founding board members of Safe Walton for Walton are Attorney Steve Hall of DeFuniak Springs, long-time resident Beth Jackson of Freeport, and field biologist Jeff Talbert of Santa Rosa Beach.
"Water quality issues are important to the state," said Talbert. "We get water from underground. The applicant wants to put leachate underground and that's a threat as it will have metal content. We have very porous limestone underground. The risk is too great to allow that. Even though it's in Jackson County, we're all connected. South Walton gets its water from north. It's a regional issue. We want to spread awareness and get people involved because a lot of people may not be aware."
A board of advisors featuring subject-matter experts is being organized.
Layman asked the Walton County Commission in July to study the issue. The cities of Freeport, Paxton, and DeFuniak Springs, as well as Walton County Board of County Commissioners, have now passed resolutions opposing a deep-injection well permit. The proposed state permit is currently on hold until March 2018, but its application review could be revived at any time beforehand.
Contact the group through Facebook at SafeWaterforWalton. The page has drawn more than 11,500 engagements from across the panhandle and the Big Bend area in Tallahassee since it began.