Water Forum at Santa Fe College

Writer and journalist Cynthia Barnett thinks the state’s water policy is swimming against a current of common sense ideas.  Christopher Curry has written an article in the Gainesville Sun outlining the  Santa Fe water forum held recently.  Read on for the article or click HERE for the original article which appeared in the Sun on Oct. 3, 2008.

Experts, authors talk water at Santa Fe forum

By 
Sun staff writer
Published: Friday, October 3, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 4, 2008 at 12:22 a.m.

Writer and journalist Cynthia Barnett thinks the state’s water policy is swimming against a current of common sense ideas.

Barnett, author of the acclaimed book “Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Waters of the Eastern U.S.,” said that’s been the case in Florida for some 150 years. In the 19th century, wetlands were “overdrained” so more areas could be settled. In the 20th century, the aquifer was “overpumped” and drinking-quality water used for irrigation, she said.

Today, Barnett said the problem is a plan to pour hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars into alternative water source projects, which include plans to pump the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers. That money, Barnett said, should instead flow to conservation programs — including micro-irrigation systems for the state’s farmers, reclaimed water lines for lawn irrigation and construction of more green buildings.

“We know this can be done and we know what to do, we’re just not doing it,” Barnett said.

Barnett also noted that the state spent tens of millions of dollars decades ago building dams and other infrastructure projects to change the natural flow of water. Now, we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars restoring rivers those projects impaired, she said.

She delivered her comments during a water forum at Santa Fe College on Friday. Authors, environmentalists and artists gathered to celebrate the rivers, forests and wildlife that have inspired art and literature since 18th century naturalist William Bartram, and to explore issues and strategies for protecting water resources across the region.

To start the day, actor J.D. Sutton donned period costume and portrayed Bartram, who in the 1760s traveled along what was then the “Rio de San Juan.”

Some 240 years later, environmentalist Neil Armingeon and the Jacksonville-based group St. Johns Riverkeeper are in a legal battle against the St. Johns River Water Management District’s proposal to pump 155 million gallons a day from the river with which Bartram fell in love.

Friday, Armingeon criticized the water management district’s governing board and Gov. Charlie Crist, who Armingeon said has “failed us” by not ending plans to pump the St. Johns when the effect on the river’s ecosystem is still unknown.

“It’s not really about the St. Johns River,” Armingeon said. “It’s about every river and spring in the state.”

Bill Belleville, author of “River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida’s St. Johns River,” said Bartram, 19th century poet Sidney ­Lanier and writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of “The Yearling” and 1942’s “Cross Creek,” found their inspiration communing with nature. Belleville said today we are exploiting nature.

Environmental and arts groups lined the corridor outside the college’s auditorium with their displays. Some had tips to encourage the use of drought-tolerant plants in landscaping. Other displays provided the latest on ongoing battles against permits for water bottling companies.

An exhibit of art inspired by nature, “Portray, Preserve, Prosper,” is also on display at the Santa Fe Gallery.

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