It’s been more than a decade since the Florida Council of 100 recommended helping water-poor South Florida out by piping water from water-rich North Florida. The suggestion sparked outrage across the state, and after a series of Senate hearings around the state, the Council of 100 report was unceremoniously shelved.
A 2007 plan called for pumping up to 130 million gallons of water a day from the Ocklawaha River and piping it to thirsting greater Orlando through 500 miles of pipelines. The price of this project steadily rose until it hit some $800 million. Predictably, that plan met massive public pushback and, like the Council of 100 plan, was put in a drawer somewhere.
Well, here we go again.
The latest proposal to raid North Central Florida’s water supply comes from the Central Florida Water Initiative. CFWI is a consortium made up of the St. Johns River, Southwest Florida and South Florida water management districts, as well as representatives from 43 local and county governments in Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and southern Lake counties, plus a couple dozens utilities that serve those communities.
The water districts say metro Orlando has tapped out its groundwater pumping capacity. The aquifer has no more water to give, even though projections show the region will need 40 percent more water by 2035. Today, the CFWI territory has 2.7 million people and uses 800 million gallons of water per day. By 2035, an estimated 4.1 million people will live in the region and need 1.1 billion gallons a day.
So what’s the solution? Well, conservation is one thought, but water managers ridiculously argue there is not much more the people in Orlando can do to conserve water.
To no one’s surprise, the consortium is looking for “alternate sources” of water beyond the aquifer, namely surface water — lakes and rivers. Of course, the study found that most of the lakes and rivers in Central Florida — again, not surprisingly — are experiencing low flows and probably are not going to be of significant help without destroying them.
There is plenty of water available, however, in North Florida, especially the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers — or so the water experts say.
The CFWI needs to get serious about mandatory conservation and meaningful, tiered pricing to curb water usage in its region and begin investing in desalination before it looks to come here and drain our water supply dry, too. And that is precisely what will happen if the CFWI plan is carried out.