Florida's Water Supply Becoming a Political Issue

Article excerpt

Byline: Caren Burmeister, Shorelines staff writer

Beaches officials are joining Jacksonville leaders in trying to fend off a statewide proposal that could lead to transporting fresh water from northern Florida to water-hungry South Florida.

Jacksonville Beach passed a resolution Dec. 1 opposing the creation of a state water board that could circumvent local control and privatize water supplies, allowing water to be piped long distances. Jacksonville and Atlantic Beach have passed similar resolutions and Neptune Beach is expected to do so next month.

A statewide task force with the Council of 100, a non-profit group representing a cross-section of key business leaders across the state, released a Water Distribution Report in September to address water supply concerns and make recommendations to Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature.

The two most controversial recommendations involve forming a statewide water supply commission and studying the feasibility of developing a statewide water distribution system.

Water resources are managed and protected by five water management districts, including the St. Johns River Water Management District, which oversees the Jacksonville area.

The 36-page report states, "It may be in the best interest of the environment, and the potential sending and receiving regions, to revisit the impacts of allowing [water] transfers, both economically and environmentally."

The report says Florida's demand for fresh water will increase to 9.1 billion gallons a day by 2020, an increase of 26 percent from today's rate of about 7.2 billion gallons a day.

The task force's research shows that South Florida consumes 50 percent of the state's fresh water. South Florida's current water consumption is greater than public demands in 39 states, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Agriculture consumes about 60 percent of South Florida's water.

Jim Overby, a citizen activist who lives in South Jacksonville Beach, recently told the Jacksonville Beach City Council that he supports the city's resolution. He said South Florida has failed to use good water conservation measures or find innovative alternatives for water sources.

"Now they are looking at our water resources with covetous eyes," Overby said.

Atlantic Beach Mayor John Meserve noted his concerns in a Town Hall meeting Friday at Fletcher High School hosted by Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham, who represents the Beaches and neighborhoods in Deerwood and Baymeadows.

Meserve said he has met with other Beaches officials about the task force's recommendations and has asked to meet with Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton to discuss the issue.

"My fear and concern is that a single, omnipotent entity wouldn't care about local issues," Meserve said.

Northeast Florida leaders will struggle to compete with the political clout in South Florida, which does a better job competing for school and transportation funding. …