Another Call to End Free Water

Today the Gainesville Sun has printed an article by Preston Haskell whose voice joins others with the solution to Florida’s water woes.  It is as Tom of the Watery Foundation wrote just days ago, and as David Denslow said a few months ago.  It is a logical solution which may indeed be the one we will choose, although some suffering and sacrifice must occur during its deployment,  altogether too great, we judge, for the current personnel we have in the  power-spots in our great state.

But they, being mortal as are we all, will be replaced someday, hopefully by those more willing to follow laws and logic before we have no springs left.

Continue reading for a re-print of Mr. Haskell’s ideas, sound and worthy that they are, or follow this link to see the original in the Sun.

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Preston H. Haskell: Florida should put a price on groundwater withdrawals

 By Preston H. Haskell
Last Modified: Thursday, March 26, 2015 at 7:14 p.m.

Among the most important issues facing Floridians today is the threatened condition of state waters and waterways. Polluted rivers, diminished lakes and disappearing springs place our quality of life and economic vitality at serious risk. Not fully understood, however, is the phenomenon that is causing low water flow from our springs to our rivers and lakes: overpumping of the Biscayne and Floridian aquifers. Overpumping has lowered the aquifer levels and artesian pressures, which has reduced water flow from the springs. This has diminished river flow, resulting in increased pollution from fertilizer and surface nutrients.

Groundwater consumption statewide has grown from 614 million gallons per day in 1950 to over 4,100 in 2010. Recent attempts to remedy this situation have included both usage reduction measures and new supply alternatives. Usage reduction has been limited to small, voluntary and inadequate measures such as shorter showers, low-flush fixtures, alternate day watering and eco-friendly plants — measures which have finite potential and are difficult to enforce. New sources of supply have principally included desalination and wastewater reuse, both of which carry high price tags. Over time, their costs will come down somewhat, but will remain far more costly than aquifer water.

Sadly, the most effective and efficient dynamic of all has received very little debate or discussion: market pricing for aquifer withdrawals. In any situation where demand exceeds supply, the pricing mechanism is the most valuable tool available. Charging a price for aquifer withdrawals at the wellhead will discourage waste, incentivize the development of new sources and raise new revenues, bringing discipline and economic efficiency to the allocation of our groundwater resources. This in turn will restore our springs, rivers, lakes and groundwater to their natural condition, while assuring adequate water availability for responsible use well into the future.

Under current policy, virtually any water utility, farmer or industrial concern — even a homeowner — can obtain a permit to drill a well and thereafter withdraw almost unlimited quantities of water for free. But if charged a market price for consumption at the wellhead, these users will adopt less wasteful practices and seek alternate sources. Such alternatives include replacing spray irrigation with drip, bubble, soaker and seepage methods; implementing process technologies for water reclamation and reuse; fitting commercial building with green roofs, cisterns and pervious pavements; and residential reduction in lawn watering, car washing and inside use.

Agricultural spray irrigation — which constitutes almost half of all aquifer water use — can be replaced with lower-consumption alternatives for approximately 40 cents per thousand gallons measured over their useful lives, and other techniques cited above would cost up to $1 per thousand gallons or in some cases more.

To incentivize such usage reduction measures, pricing of water in a range of 50 cents to $2 per thousand gallons would be reasonable and effective. If aquifer water were carefully and analytically priced within this range, a reduction in use of 15 to 20 percent would obtain over a period of three to five years. Indeed, most of this could be accomplished by reducing agricultural irrigation water use by one-third, a readily achievable number. Such a reduction would return aquifer withdrawals to 1982 levels, which would largely reverse the environmentally destructive effects being experienced today.

The state revenues resulting from such a price on aquifer withdrawals could amount to between $1 billion and $1.3 billion annually. This revenue would be available for restoration and protection of the natural resources which have been ravaged by unrestrained withdrawals from the aquifers. Up to a certain point, even higher groundwater prices would further reduce consumption and increase revenues.

All of this constitutes a win-win-win for Floridians. First, environmental destruction will be reversed by reduced withdrawals. Second, state revenues for environmental protection will increase by sensibly pricing the remaining withdrawals. Finally, the overall economics of water production and use will be enhanced as cost savings exceed the price of withdrawals.

Water is a state resource, and our Legislature is responsible for making water policy. However, special interests have long opposed paying a price for this valuable commodity, leading us to the dilemma we face today. The solution lies in legislative action that places a reasonable price on groundwater withdrawals. This will rapidly lead to restoration of our damaged rivers, springs, lakes and wetlands, ensuring good and sufficient water supplies to be intelligently utilized for decades to come. To do otherwise will result in unacceptable impacts upon our unique and precious environmental resources and will make the ultimate cost of resolving these issues far greater than that which immediate and responsible action will.

Preston H. Haskell is chairman of The Haskell Company, a Jacksonville-based design-build firm in the industrial, commercial, government and civil infrastructure markets.

 OSFR is greatful to Nathan Crabbe and the Sun for permission to re-print in full the articles in their newspaper.
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