Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Ron Cunningham: Changing water sources won’t save us from our excesses
I was talking to County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson recently about Alachua County’s impaired surface waters (they all are in case you’re wondering) when he told me we ought to be buying up as much land around Lochloosa Lake as possible.
Lochloosa being the least impaired of our impaired lakes.
“The water quality in Lochloosa is relatively high,” he said. “There are just a few fish camps around it. We should buy that (watershed) and say that’s our future water supply.”
That Hutch wants to preserve unspoiled lands is no big revelation. Long before he got into politics he founded Alachua Conservation Trust for that very purpose.
But it’s his reasoning that gives pause for reflection.
A lake as our future drinking fountain? That’s a relatively new concept in Florida. We have been unique among all the states in our ability to draw nearly all of our water needs from underground aquifers. New York City and L.A. may have to pipe in water from distant upstate reservoirs, but certainly never Miami or Orlando.
But things are changing precisely because our aquifers are being overpumped and contaminated. Orlando, for instance, has been negotiating for pumping rights to the Mormon Church-owned Taylor Creek Reservoir. The city of Cocoa has already made a similar deal.
And, really, isn’t that a good thing? Can’t we save the aquifer by tapping into our lakes and rivers to support Florida’s booming growth? And if we can thereby keep big agriculture and big development happy and our lawns green, isn’t that a win-win?
I dunno. I wonder if all those out-of-work oystermen in Apalachicola feel like winners since Georgia’s reservoirs have nearly destroyed what was formerly one of the world’s most productive estuaries.
Gainesville’s Cynthia Barnett, author of “Rain,” “Blue Revolution” and other water-centered works, is one of America’s most knowledgeable environmental writers. Simply switching our dependence from underground to surface waters, she says, “fails to see the connection of all water.”
“It’s a fallacy that we have these silos of groundwater, surface water, green water, potable water, gray water,” she said. “It’s all the same water.”
It turns out that our lakes, rivers and wetlands recharge our aquifers even as they manage stormwater runoff and help control flooding. They also provide the fresh water mix necessary to keep our marine estuaries healthy and productive (did I mention Apalachicola Bay?).
Plus the same pollution sources — inadequately treated sewage, agricultural and lawn fertilizers and pesticides, urban runoff, industrial discharges and more — that are contaminating the aquifer are also turning our rivers and lakes into oxygen-depleted algae traps.
Question: Is the giant impoundment previously known as Lake Okeechobee a reservoir or just the world’s biggest cesspool?
And do we really want to be drinking that stuff?
“The most importantly thing we can do is learn to live with less water,” Barnett said. As she has often and eloquently argued, we humans sorely need to adopt a water ethic that is based on stewardship and conservation, not exploitation and neglect.
Still, I think Hutch is onto something. We really ought to save Lochloosa for Lochloosa’s sake as well as our own.
Heck, if we ever do have to turn it into a reservoir, Orlando will probably muscle us out and grab the pumping rights anyway.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.