People Power Worked in Orange County

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The sun rises over Lake Pickett, east of the Econ River, in this view from the UCF Rowing Center on the south shore. (Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel)

Thank goodness for people like Commissioner Victoria Siplin of Orange County who listen to their constituents, an all-too rare thing in Florida politics.

Optimistic it is, that we are seeing the will of the people sometimes listened to, and the defeat of those politicians who do not.  That is a trend that we will see more and more in future elections as the citizens of Florida are becoming ever wiser to the issues.  What better example that the deceptive Amendment 1 pushed by the utility companies this past   November?  In the span of a few weeks the support fell from about 80 percent to way under the required 60 for adoption as word got out as to the blatant trickery and lies of the power companies.

So articles such as this in the Orlando Sentinel are heartwarming and inspiring.  Just what weary volunteer environmentalists need in their tremendous uphill battle in our great and imperiled state.

Thank you Orange County Commissioners!  Other Florida counties, please take note.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life:  once taken, it cannot be brought back-


As Florida’s well runs dry, reject sprawl, save water: Where We Stand

If Florida is to avoid a water crisis, leaders will need to keep rejecting developments like Sustany.

The timing was coincidental but conspicuous this week when the Orange County Commission did an about-face and wisely rejected a mega-development east of the Econlockhatchee River.

On the same day as the vote, smart-growth advocates 1000 Friends of Florida issued a report with two partners predicting the state would experience a surge in demand on its already stressed water supply by 2070 without aggressive conservation measures — including limits on the kind of sprawl the commission narrowly rejected.

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Victoria Siplin

The mega-development, known as Sustany, would have put 1,999 homes on 1,400 undeveloped acres in largely rural east Orange County, on the far side of the river that for decades has marked the county’s unofficial boundary for urban services. Opponents in the area said it would ruin their rural way of life, spoil wildlife habitat, add polluted runoff to waterways and overwhelm local roads with traffic. Two commissioners from neighboring Seminole County complained that the ill effects would spill over their border.

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Ted Edwards, pushed development and lost

Sustany was defeated by people power, seen in a torrent of emails from opponents to commissioners and the surprise defeat this month of Commissioner Ted Edwards, who supported the development. Commissioner Victoria Siplin switched her earlier support for Sustany and became the swing vote against it. “I can’t ignore the voices of the people,” she said.

The Water 2070 report makes it clear that people across Florida will need to keep speaking out against sprawl if the state is to have any chance of avoiding a water crisis.

The report, co-authored with the Florida Department of Agriculture and the University of Florida, forecasts an increase in daily demand for water — already a scarce resource — of 54 percent, from 5.3 billion gallons to nearly 8.1 million gallons by 2070, as the state’s population swells from about 20 million to 34 million.

But if leaders can say no to residential sprawl, protect more agricultural and natural land from development and adopt stronger water-conservation measures, the projected demand for water by 2070 can be reduced to 6.9 billion gallons a day — a less dangerous 30 percent increase.

Conservation measures are needed because about half of residential water consumption comes from outdoor irrigation. Requiring soil-moisture sensors to prevent unnecessary watering of lawns and gardens after rainfall could cut that consumption in half. Adding water-efficiency standards to the state building code would yield additional savings.

All Floridians, no matter where they live, have a financial interest in their leaders making infill development a priority. As the state’s population grows, it’s cheaper for taxpayers to expand government services — including roads, schools, public safety, water and sewer — in developed areas instead of stretch them to reach sprawl.

Unfortunately, the commission’s reversal on Sustany this week came a few months after members narrowly gave final approval to an adjacent mega-development, The Grow. But that decision happened months before voters delivered their verdict and got the commission’s attention. Here’s hoping this week’s action closes the door on further development east of the Econ.

Florida’s environment, quality of life and economy — especially tourism and agriculture — depend on a clean, plentiful water supply. State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam aptly described water as Florida’s “golden goose.” It’s up to state and local leaders to keep that bird alive and kicking.

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