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Sun Sentinel: Colleen Castille: The right path for Florida’s water future

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Every day, news outlets highlight Florida’s water challenges: Rising sea level, drought, and concerns about water quality.

Today, Florida is over-pumping our groundwater aquifer — a finite water source — and consuming water at an unsustainable rate. This is rapidly decreasing our access to fresh water and causing a variety of unintended consequences. Sinkholes, caused by open pockets underground once filled with water, are imploding across the state, destroying homes, businesses and even taking lives.

More commonly in Southeast Florida, an area that lies at sea level, aquifer over-pumping causes seawater to taint ground water, increasing the energy and cost needed to make it suitable for drinking.

To top it off, our state’s population is exploding. This year Florida will surpass New York as the third most populated state in the U.S. The resulting increase in water consumption should prompt us to explore other sources of fresh water to meet our expanding needs.

Thankfully, we have options. While sources of fresh water in Florida are becoming scarce, some municipalities are taking the bull by the horns and examining their local water consumption to determine the best course of action and diversify their water portfolio. These folks understand that the time to act is now — water shortages, while daunting, can be prevented.

Among the measures being considered are “drought proof” water sources, like seawater desalination. Drought proof water sources are not impacted by drought or dry conditions. These sources can supply water where we need it, when we need it.

Seawater desalination is the process of removing virtually all mineral and most biological elements from ocean water, making it suitable for drinking. Considering seawater desalination means Florida could rely on seawater as a fresh water source, one that is available during drought, expanding our access to fresh, affordable water. This would also relieve pressure on Florida’s sensitive natural resources.

As former Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, I understand the dynamic obstacles Florida faces with respect to our unique environment. Considering drought proof water sources is a worthy investment for Florida’s future.

Today, we’re too far down the road of water consumption to turn back, but we can move forward with a better plan. Coupled with water conservation education, tapping into the drought proof water source that surrounds us is an option we should consider to put Florida on the right path to protecting our most important asset for the future.

Colleen Castille is former Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

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