The St. Johns and Suwannee River water management districts made a decision this week that will impact the future supply of fresh water throughout North Central Florida.
After four years, dozens of meetings and approximately an hour of public comment at Alachua City Hall, district board members unanimously approved the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan.
The plan constitutes an evaluation of how much water is needed in 2035 for residents of north Florida and whether traditional sources of fresh groundwater can meet future water demands, while still protecting natural water resources and ecosystems.
The districts determined fresh groundwater alone cannot supply the projected 117 million gallons per day (mgd) increase in water demand during the next 20 years without causing negative impacts to water resources.
The increase in water demand will come from the projected growth in population. The plan illustrates water conservation efforts could potentially reduce the projected water demand by as much 54 mgd or 46% of the projected increase.
Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, said the plan does not address the principle problem, which is the over withdraw of groundwater and protection of the aquifer.
“It says that “well, we are running out of water but we aren’t completely out of water”,” Knight said.
Mike Register, St. Johns River Water Management District director of the Division of Water Supply Planning and Assessment said the plan provides more than enough options for utility companies and others to pick from to meet their water supply demands while still providing adequate resource protection.
Knight said the plan is based on political science – not real science.
“It’s expedient to continue to provide water to whoever asks for it because the people that ask for water and get the permits, for the most part, [are] for-profit organizations that want to use that water to increase their profits,” Knight said.
Carlos Herd, Suwannee River water management district water supply division director said if concerned residents look and review the plan, they will understand that it is protective of the resources.
The partnership is the first for the two districts.
“Back in 2010 we realized that groundwater doesn’t see boundaries and we needed to have talks with our neighbors,” Herd said. “The partnership was developed with DEP, St. Johns, and Suwannee. We also developed the stakeholder advisory committee to give us non-binding recommendations for the plan.”
While those that oppose the plan are unsatisfied, Herd says the public is still going to be involved in the process.
“I’m hopeful that when they look at the plan and review the plan that they understand that it is protective of the resource, it is not regulatory, it doesn’t force anyone to do anything but it’s a roadmap that shows how we can there through development of projects and conservation and working together,” Herd said.