OUC raises specter of water war, seeks to extend permit for pumping vulnerable Floridan Aquifer

ouc 0 In: OUC raises specter of water war, seeks to extend permit for pumping vulnerable Floridan Aquifer | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

Here we have an example of a growing and impending problem which local and state representatives  are not addressing because it requires some sacrifice and politicians don’t want to do that.

Orlando wants to continue its unchecked growth while ignoring the fact that there is not enough water to meet the needs.  This situation is not unique to Orlando, and over-development is by far the biggest threat to the environment in Florida.

Read the complete article here in the Orlando Sentinel.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
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OUC raises specter of water war, seeks to extend permit for pumping vulnerable Floridan Aquifer

Orlando’s utility will seek renewal of its permit to pump an enormous amount of water from the vulnerable Floridan Aquifer, nearly two decades after a similar move triggered an arduous water war with Orange County and several other Central Florida governments.

This time around, Orlando Utilities Commission has not forewarned neighbors of its intentions to secure rights to one of the state’s most contested resources. The utility’s current allocation dwarfs nearly all others of its kind in Florida, including the relatively small bottled-water permits drawing intense public outrage.

“We know there is competition,” said Christopher Browder, chief legal officer at OUC, whose board decided Tuesday without comment to move forward on a permit renewal. “We expect to have some intervenors.”

In the early 2000s, OUC was aggressive in staking a claim for one of the largest withdrawals of Floridan Aquifer water permitted in the state. Florida then was experiencing blistering population growth amid a dawning realization of the environmental perils of heavy pumping from the aquifer’s rain-filled limestone deep underground.

The massive aquifer underlying much of Florida flows up at springs, hydrates wetlands and is the foundation of rivers and lakes.

To mollify state authorities and neighbors, OUC pledged to deliver millions of gallons of the city’s highly treated sewage through newly installed pipes and pumps to west Orange County for lawn and landscape irrigation that would otherwise be done with Floridan Aquifer water.

That system, called Project RENEW, was considered progressive, costly and essential to OUC’s winning a state permit valid for 20 years – which was extraordinarily longer than what most utilities could obtain – and for 109 million gallons of Floridan Aquifer water daily.

But OUC, citing a variety of excuses and blaming others for not cooperating, has reneged on its commitment to build Project RENEW.

The city utility was denied access to pipeline right-of-way owned by Florida Gas Transmission Co. and was beaten to the punch by other utilities in routing treated wastewater to west Orange County, said former OUC vice president Chip Merriam in a 2018 letter to state officials.

OUC spent more than $4 million on planning, design and development of the project, according to Merriam’s correspondence. Other OUC documents show the project would have cost more than $40 million to complete.

OUC’s 20-year permit originally was scheduled to expire in October 2023. But with the utility’s abandonment of Project RENEW, the permit will expire in October 2021 and OUC’s coveted allocation of 109 million gallons daily will drop this October to 100 million gallons daily.

The utility is now supplying 120,000 homes, businesses and other water customers with an average of 90 million gallons daily.

Facing a shortened permit timeline, OUC officials decided it would be “advantageous” to make an early application for a permit renewal. That task could take three years and cost $1 million, according to OUC.

Orange County officials do not have enough information about OUC’s move for a permit renewal to provide comment, county spokeswoman Kelly Finkelstein said.

Florida’s water fears were dampened by the economic slowdown of the 2007-’09 recession. But water worries are rising again with the current acceleration of real-estate development.

The Central Florida Water Initiative, comprised of government, utility, environmental and other representatives, projects that the region’s water demand will grow from about 670 million gallons daily currently to more than 907 million gallons daily within the next 20 years.

That future demand would outstrip the amount of water available from the Floridan Aquifer, according to the group’s projections.

In October 2003, Orange County attacked OUC’s then-pending water permit for 109 million gallons daily by filing a petition for a state hearing on the matter, targeting Project RENEW as unlikely to sufficiently protect the Floridan Aquifer from OUC’s pumping.

Joining the lawsuit-like proceeding was Lake County, which blamed Orlando’s utility for pumping so aggressively from the Floridan Aquifer that water was being siphoned away from Lake County’s wells and environment.

“As a result of OUC withdrawals, lake levels in the region have been lowered,” Lake County stated in its petition. “Additional pumping by OUC will cause further impact to lake levels….”

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