Proposed cattle ranch's water needs has locals upset

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MARION COUNTY, Fla. - Opposition is growing over a proposed 25,000-acre cattle ranch.

If approved, the ranch would use more water each day than the entire city of Ocala.

A Canadian billionaire wants to develop land at County Road 315 and County Road 316 in Fort McCoy for the new ranch.

Not far from the tiny Marion County town of Fort McCoy, there is a 25,000-acre tract of wooded land. Some of that land is now being cleared of trees.

"The change is going to be huge," said Guy Marwick of the Silver Springs Alliance.

That change, Marwick says, will damage a national treasure.

"I really believe Silver Springs will become a trickle of its former self," said Marwick.

Marwick is part of a growing movement opposed to the launch of a mega cattle ranch called Adena Springs.

The ranch is just a couple of miles from Silver Springs and the Silver River. Some said they are concerned that if the project goes through, the area will never be the same.

That's because the ranch would need up to 13 million gallons of water each day to operate.

"A million more a day than Ocala uses. More than a whole city," said Marion County resident Karen Chadwick.

All that water would be used to grow grass to feed the cattle.

Developers have asked the St. Johns River Water Management District for a permit to drill wells and withdraw the water. They said the cattle operation would create more than 100 jobs and would not have a negative effect on the aquifer or the springs. And, they said, during the rainy season, they wouldn't need to pump as much water.

Opponents believe otherwise. They said they are afraid that if they don't fight now, future generations will never know how beautiful Silver Springs and the Silver River once were.

"Well, it might be the death knell for the springs. That's what we're worried about," said Chadwick.

Central Florida is already home to the largest cow-calf ranch in the country. The Deseret Ranch, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, covers nearly 300,000 acres. That ranch, near Orlando, has also faced legal issues in the past involving water usage.