Saturday, February 23, 2008

Below is the unedited version of a recent letter written by Jimmy Orth, Executive Director of St. Johns Riverkeeper, that appeared in the Florida Times-Union:

Everyone in NE FL seems to be in opposition to the proposals by Central Florida and the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) to withdraw millions of gallons of water a day from the St. Johns River. Most local governments have passed resolutions in opposition to the plan. Mayor Peyton and many of our state legislators are concerned that these proposals will harm the river. Everyone also acknowledges that we have to do a much better job of using our limited water resources more responsibly and efficiently. Even the SJRWMD claims to support an expansion of water conservation measures. Unfortunately, our actions don’t correspond with our rhetoric. Each day, I see businesses and residents watering at the wrong time of the day or too frequently with sprinklers that are not properly adjusted. Recently, I reported a problem at a city-owned property where the sprinklers have been operating every day for at least 2 weeks, extending beyond the10AM rule and pouring thousands of gallons of water on the adjacent street. Four days after reporting the problem to the city, the sprinklers were still running. In NE FL, we have not adopted mandatory water conservation measures and our utilities provide few incentives for conservation. Even though the SJRWMD has said that conservation could postpone the water withdrawal plans, they continue to rubber stamp consumptive use permits (CUPs) for the withdrawal of our groundwater. In 2007, permits were issued that total 2.845 million gallons a day (mgd) for golf courses, 1.74 mgd for sod farms, 4.31 mgd for a fish farm, .769 for water bottling plants, and 1.296 mgd to a Cocoa Beach surf shop for its cooling and air condition. That is a total of 10.96 mgd or over 4 billion gallons of water a year. These are just some of the more egregious or excessive permits and only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the total amount of water that is permitted each year for withdrawal from our aquifer. Now, the SRJRWMD wants to allow Seminole County to withdraw 5.5 million gallons per day from the river to be used primarily for irrigation purposes. The bottom line is that we have not taken water conservation seriously, and we absolutely must. We must provide more effective education, substantially increase incentives and markedly improve and strengthen regulations that govern water use. Using over 50% of our potable water on our lawns and shrubs is no longer an option, and we must start using drought-tolerant landscaping practices. We also have to start making prudent decisions about the appropriate uses and how we prioritize and allocate this essential public resource. Now is the time for us to decide – do we continue to just talk a good game or do we also start demonstrating our commitment by taking aggressive and more responsible actions. Yes, we all oppose the plans to take water from the river. But, we must also take responsibility and conserve our water resources to the point that there is no need to withdraw water from our river in the first place.

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