July 24, 2007
Central Florida shouldn't take water from St. Johns
By RON LITTLEPAGEThe Times-Union
Lovers of the St. Johns River be warned.
The St. Johns River Water Management District is gung-ho about plans to take perhaps as much as 150 million gallons a day out of the river to quench the thirst of Central Florida where growth continues out of control.
And it's not just the St. Johns. Millions of gallons could also come out of the Ocklawaha, a major tributary of the St. Johns.
And it's not just water for Central Florida. South Florida and Southwest Florida are bellying up to the bar as well in a behind-the-scenes ploy to get around the public outcry that came when a similar idea was proposed a couple of years ago.
A major problem is no one knows for sure what sucking that much water out of the St. Johns and Ocklawaha would do to the health of the rivers.
It's easy to tell the water management district is serious about proceeding. Why else would it pay the law firm of Fowler White Boggs Banker about $1 million to facilitate planning sessions for the projects?
One such meeting was held in Orlando last week where about 40 entities expressed interest in staking out claims on water from the St. Johns and the Ocklawaha.
The St. Johns Riverkeeper, Neil Armingeon, attended the meeting and described the atmosphere as being "like dogs fighting over a hunk of meat." When he asked about challenging the projects, Armingeon said he was told, "Hey, dude. It's a done deal."
Well, it shouldn't be a done deal.
When communities spend perhaps as much as $300 million on a plant to treat the river water to make it potable, do you really believe the water management district is going to say, sorry, it turns out we were wrong and the health of the river is being adversely affected, so stop using the water?
And there's no satisfactory answer as to what will happen to the effluent from the plants. When you remove the dirty stuff from the river water, where does it go? Back into the river in concentrated form?
"This is madness," Armingeon said.
The water management district insists withdrawing the water will be safe. I know scientists who disagree.
One big question is how taking that much fresh water out of the St. Johns would affect the river's salinity levels and ecology.
Gov. Charlie Crist has been presenting himself lately as an environmentalist. I applaud him on his efforts to cut greenhouse gases.
He also needs to make it clear to the boards of the state's water management districts that their mission is not only water supply.
It's also protecting the health of the state's waterways.
He has a perfect opportunity to drive that point home.
The board of the St. Johns River Water Management District has nine members. The terms of three of those members have expired. Crist needs to appoint people who get it.
One thing didn't come up at the Orlando meeting where hands were wrung over finding alternative water supplies to meet the needs of burgeoning development.
Half of the water being taken from the aquifer is being used for irrigation.
Institute strict conservation programs and leave the St. Johns and Ocklawaha alone.
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