It has been a big year for water issues in Florida – particularly north Florida. Folks in every corner of the state have likely heard about the Adena Springs Ranch permit application in Marion County, originally for 13.2 million gallons per day (mgd) from the Floridan aquifer, now for 5.3 mgd. A North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership has been convened to solve transboundary water issues between the lesser developed Suwanee River Water Management District and the ever-thirsty St. Johns River Water Management District.
In Crystal River, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, residents and local government are outraged over a water bottling permit issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) to allow 76,700-153,400 gallons to be withdrawn daily from the Floridan aquifer. This issuance came after residents and the environmental community worked arduously to purchase and protect local springs, only to have a well permitted in the city limits so water can be pumped, shipped, bottled, and sold by a private water bottling company. Meanwhile, no minimum flows and levels (MFLs) have been set for Crystal River and Kings Bay, where anyone who lives on or recreates on the water will tell you that the bay is saltier and the spring flows have been reduced. Just to the south, a group of stakeholders have been fighting MFL proposals from the SWFWMD for the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa Rivers that would allow reduced flows. All of these issues are integral to the future of our state’s water supply and the vitality of our aquatic ecosystems and the species dependent upon those ecosystems, including manatees.
While these permit applications and the continued mindset of the Water Management Districts to find “more” water are disconcerting, there is one positive and it is this: people are angry. People are tired of business as usual while they watch the waters that they love continue to decline. They are angry at Florida’s leadership for lacking vision and a sustainable long-term plan for water use. Folks are right to be angry, and if we are going to create positive change in the way we provide, use, and value water, we all need to channel that anger into action – to contact our water management districts and our local governments and to show up at the public meetings where these issues are being discussed, and let our leaders know that we want a more sustainable future for Florida’s water resources.
What we need are safeguards that will curb our wasteful water use and move us toward water neutrality where we find creative ways to use what we already have. We need to stop giving our limited and precious water away to corporations that will turn around and use our public resources for private profit. New developments can find water from the existing permitted water supplies. They can install cisterns in those new developments; pay to install low flow fixtures in every home adjacent to and within those developments; and plant Florida-friendly landscapes that do not need intensive irrigation. Our existing developments must also do more to curb water use.
Our Water Management Districts are tasked with providing us water. As long as they see a demand, they will make it happen, but at what cost? Whether that means setting a lower MFL for state water bodies, drawing surface waters off our rivers like the St. Johns, or building a seawater desalination facility, they will “find” the water. Meanwhile, people and the environment will pay the price. By 2030, the Districts have estimated that Floridians will “need” 1.9 billion gallons more per day than they did in 2005, as our population is expected to grow by 48%. The price tag to construct the alternative water supply projects to meet this demand: $3.6 billion.
Our state is at a crossroads, or perhaps more appropriately, a fork in the river. If we want to steer the ship down a path of sustainability, we must get and stay engaged. We must be vigilant in defending our natural resources and our water supply, and we must support laws and leaders that are committed to these principles. Ultimately, we must realize the true costs associated with the water that seems to flow so freely from our faucets.
Dr. Tripp has been Save the Manatee Club’s Director of Science and Conservation (savethemanatee.org) since May of 2008. She received her Ph.D. in Veterinary Medical Sciences from the University of Florida, where she conducted research on manatee physiology.