The Amy H Remley Foundation  

September 20, 2009

It is time to protect our water resources

by Don Cox, director Citrus 20/20 Inc.
as published in the Citrus County Chronicle, Sunday, September 20, 2009.

Two years ago, I wrote a series of articles to the Chronicle entitled "Need for Bold Leadership on Spring, Drinking Water, and Groundwater Protection". The intent was for our County Leaders to take bold action to improve the water quality while maintaining growth in our community.

Since then, we have two new County Commissioners, a new Governor, State Representative, and several new members on local water boards and authorities. My first impression was that we were in for changes. However, I was wrong. Here is the score card.

Commissioners waited until the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) was ready to fine and sanction the County for not setting the appropriate setbacks for spring protections so they would not be the bad guys on the block. Despite numerous citizens at public meeting recommending that the county adopt the DCA setbacks, county staff encouraged the commissions to wait until the DCA took action against the county.

Over pumping of our drinking water systems required Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly referred to as SWFWMD. to file consent orders against three County Water System this year. Since 2006, the Citrus County Water and Wastewater Authority has been reluctant to take legal action against high use water hogs so he would not be the bad guy on the block. Unfortunately, the county waited until SWFWMD initiated legal action in the form of a Constant Order.

A State Representative built a path to a local spring that was in violation of County Ordinance 4242 – A & C. (Protection and Use of Right-of-way), Chapter Four of the county, mandatory use, design standards, and development criteria, and SWFWMD Chapter 373.185. Nonetheless, county Code enforcement found no violations with the path.

While the local leadership scorecard sadly indicates that inaction or delayed action were substituted for bold leadership, a report by the Florida Council of 100, a recommendation by the University of Florida Levin College of Law and passage of SB 2080 are particularly disturbing for the future of our waters

The Council of 100's, a private nonprofit, nonpartisan organization formed in 1961 and comprised of key business leaders who serve in an advisory role to the governor for the purpose of promoting economic growth and improving the economic well-being of Floridians, recently issued a report that could endanger Florida statures "Local Sources First" provision.

Although the law "provides for Long-distance transfer of water across hydrologic boundaries," it also states that the area in receipt of the water "must have exhausted all reasonable local sources and options." Applying faulty logic and a misinterpretation of this "local Sources First" provision, the Council of 100 wrongly concluded the treating the state's water resources as a general revenue source for statewide distribution would make good environmental and economic sense since some water-rich areas throughout the state are successfully supplying water-poor areas across county lines and receiving utility revenue.

With the "local Sources First" provisions of section 373.223(3) apply specifically to inter-county transfers of both surface and ground water and not inter-district transfers, the University of Florida Levin College of Law has recommended the repeal of statutory preferences for "inter-county transfers" and is in favor of water transfers between water management districts. Since this would further tilt the "Local Sources First" requirement in favor of water transfers, I would not be surprised if an amendment to change Section 373.223(3) is introduced during the next legislative session.

Another potential treat to "Local Sources First" is Senate Bill 2080, which was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist earlier this year. The law instructs the state's five water management district executive directors to form a panel for the purpose of creating a statewide water distribution system for inter-district transfers that would determine who gets water, from what source and how much. Further, the law does not require the executive directors to accept public comment or make their decisions in public if they choose to establish an inter-district transfer.

Senate Bill 2080 has fundamentally changed the distribution of water in Florida. And, given the political cover afforded by the Council of 100 report and the recommendation of the Levin College of Law, we should all be concerned that Senate Bill 2080, at some point in time, will be used to circumvent the "Local Sources First" legislation. If this occurs, inter-district transfer could become a reality when the water wars heat up and we could see water transfers from Citrus County to neighboring counties.

Water transfer is an issue that everyone in our community has a vested interest in. We still have time to prepare for any attempt to transfer our water. However, the first step for precluding water transfers from our county is bold leadership by Citrus County's stakeholders to prepare a detailed water plan written by the county for the county, such as was done by Marion County when it had exhausted all sources and options.

We can no longer sit back and wait for someone else to protect our waters. It is our responsibility!

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