Thursday, May 8, 2008

How Not To Be Sustainable

Recently, I spoke to a group of international environmental leaders visiting the United States through International Visitor Corps of Jacksonville. The theme of the multi-day visit was "Global Perspectives on Jacksonville's Sustainable Development." I put together a handout with the following statistics and facts about our water resources in Florida.

I was already aware that we Floridans are not living and using our limited resources sustainably, but seeing the rundown of troubling statistics on one page highlighted the magnitude of the problem and the urgency of the situation. We are currently not doing a good job of protecting the health of our rivers, groundwater supplies, and environment, in general. How can we accomodate the intense growth that is projected, if we don't dramatically reduce our current impacts to the environment and develop a more sustainable blueprint for our future, now?

This also highlights the fact that the debate over withdrawing water from the St. Johns River must be more about how we use our water resources than where we will get water from. We must focus on the reasons why communities are facing water shortages and looking to the river to fulfill their needs and work toward solving those problems, first. If we don't, we will continue to exploit our water resources and will continuously be in search of new sources. This business as usual approach to solving our water supply problems will also come at a huge expense to taxpayers and the citizens of this state. This is simply not a socially, ecologicially, or economically responsible approach to managing the natural resources that belong to all of us, as well as future generations.

• Florida entered the Union as a state in 1845 with a population of 57,951 people.

• In 1950, the population increased to 2.8 million. At this time, residents served by the public supply used 102 gallons of water per day, requiring public supply withdrawals of 170 million gallons a day (MGD). Total freshwater withdrawals totaled nearly 1.5 billion gallons per day.

• In 1970, the population increased to 6.8 million, per capita water use from the public supply increased to 163 gpd, and total water withdrawals for the public supply increased to 883.4 MGD. Total freshwater withdrawals exceeded 5.6 billion gallons per day.

• In 2000, 16 million people lived in Florida, the per-capita use increased to 174 gpd, and water withdrawals for the public supply increased to 2.2 billion gallons per day. Total water withdrawals in 2000 were nearly 8.2 billion gallons per day.

• The average water use within the St. Johns River Water Management District in 2006 was 164 gallons per capita per day (gpcd, and over 50% of that water was used outside the home for irrigation purposes.

• Today, over 18 million people reside in Florida. A 2006 report by 1000 Friends of Florida, projected Florida’s population to increase to 35.8 million in 2060.

• Over 90 percent of Florida’s population relies on groundwater for their drinking water needs. Most of this water comes from the Floridan Aquifer, one of the most productive sources of freshwater in the world.

• Despite having such a vast and productive aquifer underneath our feet, we are reaching its limits. The St. Johns River Water Management District has directed municipalities and utilities in Central Florida to identify “Alternative Water Supply” (AWS) sources, because the rate of withdrawal from the aquifer is no longer sustainable.

• Within the St. Johns River Water Management District, only 28% of estuaries, 41% of lakes, and 13% of streams met their designated uses in 2007.

• Florida has approximately 10.5 million acres of wetlands, down from the 11 million acres of wetlands in 1980 and 20.3 acres of wetlands in 1780.

• According to a St. Petersburg Times special report, Florida has lost at least 84,000 acres of wetlands since 1990.