July 30, 2008

It’s Time to Say No to Massive Withdrawals From the Aquifer


There's more proof that St. Johns River Water Management District staffers are living in La-La Land.

Perhaps they haven't noticed that there's a wee bit of controversy over the district's plans to allow Central Florida to take up to 262 million gallons of water a day out of the St. Johns River.

The district's rationale is that development has put too much strain on the state's main source of drinking water, the Floridan aquifer, and that new water sources must be found by 2013.

The other alternative is to control growth, and we know that's never going to happen in Florida.

People concerned about the effect the water withdrawal would have on the health of the St. Johns have been fighting it tooth and nail.

On that subject, Mayor John Peyton didn't pull any punches during his budget message to the City Council earlier this month.

"We are not going to put our community through the financial and political sacrifice necessary to improve our river only to let Central and South Florida steal our precious water resources and pollute our river upstream," Peyton said.

"If they think that, they are in for a rude awakening, and a big fight."

That's just one of the shots that have been fired in this battle. There also have been lawsuits and legal challenges.

The district's staffers must not have noticed. They are recommending that the district's governing board approve a permit to allow a California company, Niagara Bottling, to take 484,000 gallons per day out of the aquifer to sell as bottled water.

That would be 177 million gallons a year out of an aquifer that is so stressed that water managers are greedily eyeing the St. Johns.

The bottling plant would be in Lake County, and local governments there are fighting the permit.

The district's governing board is set to take up the issue at its Aug. 12 meeting.

The main argument for the project is that the plant would create 200 jobs.

That's been the fate of the St. Johns. Its health has always been secondary to development, jobs and money. It's time to say no more.

Instead of recommending yet another withdrawal from the aquifer, the district staff should be reviewing all consumptive use permits.

Are the numerous bottling plants that suck water out of our aquifer really in the public's interest? Does the state really need so many lush, green golf courses?

There was some good news for the St. Johns last week.

The City Council passed ordinances proposed by Peyton that will put teeth into rules that limit watering of lawns and landscaping, and that govern the use of fertilizers.

Both efforts will require an education campaign to make sure people understand the rules and the need for them.

And when they understand the purpose - less water taken from the aquifer and less fertilizer ending up in the river, which is already overloaded with nutrients - I believe most people will be happy to [email protected], (904) 359-4284

(c) 2008 Florida Times Union. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.