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The travesty continues with our water authorities dispensing our groundwater at an unprecedented rate with the sole purpose of helping developers get rich.
OSFR Advisor Jim Gross is quoted extensively here, exposing political motives for the harmful actions of the water managers – motives that we have heard over and over and are seeing manifest day after day.
Thanks to Lauren Ritchie and the Orlando Sentinel for the following article.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Stop letting developments such as The Villages suck up water
The Villages is seeking to renew its biggest water permit for more than 19 million gallons a day. (Orlando Sentinel)
The massive retirement community called The Villages, often the source of hilarious eye-rolling tales of liquor and sex, also conveniently serves as a clear example of Central Florida’s growth because of how fast that place blasted out of a cow pasture.
The Villages was a trailer park 25 years ago, and today it’s a bustling city of more than 130,000 retirees that features good shopping, many restaurant choices, 43 golf courses and nonstop entertainment for seniors.
Part of the story of its sizzling growth is the jaw-dropping amount of water the mammoth community consumes and what it illustrates about growth all over Central Florida just as that development machine is cranking up again.
In 1991, The Villages had a permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to use about 156,000 gallons a day to grow melons and 18,000 a day to water cattle — 63 million gallons a year. That’s enough to fill 60 percent of Lake Eola in downtown Orlando.
Today? The Villages holds permits in three counties and two water districts allowing it to use a stunning 12.4 billion gallons a year. That’s the equivalent of nearly 120 Lake Eolas. And the retirement community is looking to get another 850 million gallons annually for a new “village” in Wildwood, the Sumter County town that anchors the north end of Florida’s Turnpike.
The Villages retirement community is permitted to use the equivalent water of 125 Lake Eolas to take care of its 130,000 residents and 43 golf courses. (Gary W. Green / Orlando Sentinel)
Folks, how long do you think the Floridan Aquifer — those underground layers of ancient limestone from which we drink — can put up with this abuse and still slake our thirst?
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Orlando Sentinel reporters were quoting officials of the St. Johns River Water Management District saying that the underground water level had dropped up to 10 feet in the area below The Villages. They warned that the sweet water of the upper aquifer would be running out — right about now, actually.
Yet, St. Johns officials today say there are 850 million gallons a day —310 billion gallons a year — more to withdraw if it’s done with care. Whoo-hoo! We could build 25 more Villages-type communities! Let’s get crackin’!
“Where you pull the water from can make a difference. We’re looking at ways of distributing out the withdrawals so they don’t have as large an impact,” said Mike Register, division director of Water Supply Planning at the St. Johns. “We’re using surface water in conjunction with groundwater, and asking ‘Are there opportunities we have to increase recharge?’”
In Register’s answer, folks, lies the problem. The water planner and his colleagues are looking under every rock and using every trick they can devise to string out the water supply — they see their goal as meeting “the needs.” That’s code for “so developers can keep building across in Florida.” Register was quick to point out that the district wouldn’t let the rape of the aquifer hurt the environment in the quest for more water.
All this makes Jim Gross laugh and not in a Santa Claus kind of way.
Gross, executive director of the Florida Defenders of the Environment, held Register’s job until shortly after he declined in June 2014 to change a water-supply plan to show that there was plenty of the wet stuff left for anyone who wanted it.
“They didn’t want it changed because there was anything inaccurate or wrong with the plan — it was purely 100 percent political,” said Gross, a licensed geologist who was let go shortly after a confrontation with his bosses.
He snorted at the notion that 850 million gallons a day of water remain in the aquifer available for use in Central Florida before the environment would be damaged.
“When it comes to water supply, they’re not going to tell you the truth,” Gross said. “It was known by everyone in the agency that we had more demand than groundwater. Did the science completely change overnight? Now, ‘Presto! There’s plenty?’”
Not hardly. What changed is the philosophy that protecting the fragile water supply is Job No. 1. Over time, the new notion that water districts must “find” water will eat away at the health of the environment. It’s not an overnight process.
However, spring flows have been dropping markedly over the past several years, and some wetlands have begun to dry up. Most of us wouldn’t notice unless scientific white papers on hydrology is bedtime reading. We’re more likely to realize that some places — ironically, The Villages is one — are plagued by a rising incidence of sinkholes. Later, saltwater, which already pollutes wells closer to the coast, will seep farther inland to Central Florida.
“Every well that ever has been drilled since 1880 diverts water from flowing to sustain natural systems. Every. Single. Drop,” Gross said.
So just because current water officials aren’t sounding the warnings they did a quarter century ago doesn’t mean that everything is just dandy. It’s more likely to mean only that the politics of water has changed. And not for the better.
“This rides on where you want to draw the line in the water. Do we want to protect lakes and springs and wetlands? If we want to protect what’s left, we can’t issue more permits,” Gross said.
“We have to stop now.”
[email protected] Lauren invites you send her a friend request on facebook at www.facebook.com/laurenonlake.