As we have often said in this newsletter, we all know how to fix our water problems but the will do to so is not there. OSFR advisor Dr. Knight describes one way below, but we are not yet ready to pay.
Read the entire article in the Gainesville Sun.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Robert Knight: Putting a price on clean water
Under extreme circumstances a person can die from lack of water within hours. Excessive exercise without hydration can lead to the inability to sweat and regulate body temperature. Under more comfortable conditions it might take up to a week to die of thirst.
Contaminated water with dissolved toxins or pathogenic bacteria can also kill. The death may be short (diarrhea and vomiting) and agonizing, or long (think cancer) and agonizing. So how much are we willing to pay for clean water — water that meets our physical needs for hydration without making us ill?
If we live in a Florida city we pay from $2.10 (Orlando) to $6.89 (West Palm Beach) per 1,000 gallons of clean, potable fresh water. If we buy bottled water, we are paying from $1,100 (Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water) to $9,240 (Evian Natural Spring Water) per 1,000 gallons of the same groundwater in a fancy plastic bottle.
On the other end of the spectrum is the cost to pump groundwater using a private well. Including the cost of well installation, a pump to lift the water and the electricity to run it, the typical cost over the normal life of the well and pump is about 10 cents per thousand gallons. In Florida the water itself is free. Installing a private well is 20 times less expensive than paying your water bill in Orlando and 11,000 times cheaper than buying a bottle of Zephyrhills water.
Access to clean, potable, fresh water is a basic human right. In times of disaster, our government and non-profits ship thousands of cases of bottled water to storm victims who have lost their access to clean water.
A common contaminant in groundwater in Florida and worldwide is nitrate nitrogen. The non-profit Environmental Working Group estimates that 5.3 million Americans are receiving nitrate-tainted water above health guidelines from their public utilities.
With a natural background concentration of less than 0.05 parts per million, the nitrate concentration in groundwater throughout north and central Florida now averages about 0.9 parts per million and exceeds 10 parts per million (the federal maximum drinking water standard) in many wells. Even the bottled springs water for sale in Florida contains elevated nitrate concentrations.
There is a logical and easy approach to getting out of Florida’s groundwater crisis. Its called an aquifer protection fee. When water is free or cheap it will be used to excess. Public utilities have learned that a tiered water rate effectively discourages excessive water use. Also, utilities charge homeowners and businesses for the cost of removing pollutants, such as nitrogen, from the wastewater they generate.
For home owners with private wells and nurserymen and farmers who use massive amounts of groundwater to profitably grow a crop, there is no tiered water rate. While there are some costs for installation and maintenance of a septic system and for lagoons associated with dairies, there is little to no cost for prevention of nitrogen pollution for rural homeowners and agricultural producers.
In other words, many water consumers and polluters do not pay a fair share to protect and sustain the groundwater that we all depend upon. Urban users shoulder nearly all the costs for the currently insufficient aquifer protection efforts required by state environmental agencies.
Informed citizens have been calling for parity on these issues for decades. All groundwater uses must be monitored and users pay a fee in proportion to the amount of groundwater they use. All nitrogen inputs to the aquifer need to be estimated and individuals and businesses responsible must be charged a fee in proportion to the amount of pollution they create.
The proceeds from these aquifer protection fees should be used for preventing excessive depletion and pollution of the Floridan Aquifer. An ample supply of clean groundwater is priceless.
Dr. Robert Knight is director of the Florida Springs Institute in High Springs.