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Gainesville Sun Editorial: Water Planning

Friday, January 17, 2014

Every five years, the St. Johns River Water Management District crafts a long-range “water supply plan” to help gauge what the 17-county district’s population and, in turn, water needs will be in the long term. Its latest plan is in the works, looking toward 2035.

A draft plan projects the district, which includes part of Alachua County, will have an additional 1.8 million people and need an extra 314 million gallons a day by 2035. It also says, “Water demand projections exceed fresh water availability by 256 mgd.”

In short, the traditional source of our water, the Floridan aquifer, will be tapped out by 2035 and will require two things that have been talked about in the past but never were actually carried out.

One, begin substantive and effective conservation efforts. District officials say they are going to become more aggressive in advocating and financing widespread conservation programs among all segments of water consumers — residential, business and agriculture — as well as water reuse wherever possible.

Two, the water supply plan calls for developing more alternative sources of water — namely surface waters like lakes, rivers and the ocean.

Much of the current plan sounds not unlike past water supply plans, but St. Johns officials say it is much different. We hope so. And there are major changes, for sure.

The district, for example, has designated the entire 17 counties as a “water resource caution area,” a designation reserved for areas facing the threat of insufficient supply. In past plans, only small slivers of the district earned the designation.

As for the conservation measures, St. Johns is collaborating with neighboring water management districts — including the Suwannee River district, which covers the rest of Alachua County — to determine the best conservation practices of each. Such cooperation has been noticeably missing in the past. District officials concede there is no longer any choice but to stress conservation because, frankly, it is the cheapest method of extending the existing water supply.

Finally, the district no longer is considering a costly pipeline from the Ocklawaha River to Orlando or Jacksonville to meet those metro areas’ huge water needs. The Ocklawaha might instead serve as a source for Marion County and its closest neighbors.

The water supply plan for 2035 is in its infancy, and the public will have a chance to weigh in, but after years of giving lip service to meaningful conservation and local sources first, it seems the latest plan finally embraces those important concepts.

Words are important, and the St. Johns officials are saying the right things. Now we urge them to put action behind those words.

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