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The bad news on Florida's water supply keeps coming PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marjorie Holt   
Sunday, May 24 2009

Opinion & Commentary
The bad news about Florida's water supply just keeps coming
Jane Healy

Feet to the Fire

May 24, 2009

If you thought things couldn't get any worse in terms of Florida's assault on its dwindling water supply, you're in for a surprise. This session legislators did two things that can make it far worse.

No. 1: Letting water-district executive directors call the shots on withdrawals.

It was bad enough when the board of the St. Johns River Water Management District in April told Seminole County it could withdraw 5.5 million gallons a day from the St. Johns to satisfy the county's thirst. But at least that was done in public with the full force of debate and criticism of the board members who took the step.

Withdrawing water from the river is controversial for a good reason — it can hurt the wildlife and plants that depend on certain water levels for survival. The St. Johns is a jewel that has been preserved smack in the middle of the busy Orlando area. To ruin it now by withdrawing its water would be unthinkable. Unthinkable to most of us anyway. But not necessarily to water-district executive directors who are eyeing the river as a ready supply of water for growth when the Floridan aquifer becomes off-limits after 2013.



Under the bill, water-district directors would have sole approval not only for river withdrawals but for all requests for permits to consume water. That means the deals could be hatched in secret meetings. This is supposedly being done to cut down on the time it takes to get a permit approved. But a vast majority of permits are routine and can be quickly approved at board meetings without discussion. It's the controversial ones such as the St. Johns withdrawal that would — and certainly should — take some time for approval.

Oh, and if anyone doubts where the pressure for this change is coming from, consider this. There is one instance in which the board can have a say-so: when an executive director actually musters the courage to deny a permit. That denial can be appealed to the board. See a pattern here? The whole thrust seems to be to deplete the water supply as fast as possible rather than find ways to protect it with, say, better conservation measures.

No. 2: Letting Deseret Ranch tie up water for 50 years.

Here's another little gem in the water bill: The sprawling 290,000-acre Deseret spread in Orange and Osceola counties would be able to get 50-year water permits, though such permits usually are good for only 20 years. A 50-year permit, in fact, is unheard of. Not anymore. The bill was written in a way that allows Deseret to do this because it has its own water plant. The lobbyists certainly earned their keep on that one.

Remember this comes at a time when Orange County is also looking for sources of water other than the aquifer. It's eyeing water not only from the St. Johns but from the Kissimmee River basin. Allowing Deseret to get a 50-year permit to withdraw water — whether or not it uses it — puts all the more pressure on Orange to pursue those other sources. In fact, withdrawals from the Kissimmee basin are in some ways more troubling than the St. Johns. Hundreds of millions are being spent to restore that river from its old channeled self. Withdrawing water now could destroy all that.

The bill allowing all this mischief should be ripe for a veto by Gov. Charlie Crist. If he's really the friend of the environment he purports to be, that is. But even a veto is no reason for people to let their guard down. The next legislative session is a short nine months away.

You can contact Jane Healy at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it . She'd like to hear about public officials who need their feet kept to the fire.

Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel


Last Updated ( Sunday, May 24 2009 )
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