The lates t word o n our water supply is hardly news but worth noting nonetheless. The St. Johns River Water Management District is projecting the 18 counties that make up the district — including Lake — will tap out their groundwater supply by 2035. When that happens, other means will have to be found to meet the shortfall that is forecast to be somewhere around 256 million gallons a day.
What is welcome in the district’s latest water-supply report is that for the first time officials are talking seriously about the need for conservation measures. Many have long advocated strict conservation measures and widespread water reuse programs similar to those implemented in the Tampa Bay region, where daily per capita water use is about half what it is in the St. Johns district.
Conservation, however, will not be enough, according to the water managers. No, even the best conservation scenario will leave the district, which includes big water users Orlando and Jacksonville, about 40 million gallons short, and probably much more.
So the district is looking at greater use of underground storage facilities, aquifer recharge, brackish groundwater from coastal areas and, of course, surface water, notably the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers. Desalination is also mentioned, but it is not an option the district has ever been warm to because of its cost.
Yet, while the district will seek public input on the water supply plan in the coming weeks, we would encourage water managers to strive to implement a serious, long-term conservation program.
Tapping into our surface waters, though, should be a last resort. Because it is easy and relatively cheap, however, it tends to be the first resort. And make no mistake, with 1,000 lakes in Lake County and a first-magnitude spring, desperate coastal counties will look inland toward us to slake their thirst.
We are pleased the St. Johns district is addressing this problem. As we said at the outset, this is hardly a new reality — water experts and environmentalists, indeed everyday Floridians, have been warning about our growing population draining our water supply for more than a generation.
We urge St. Johns officials to keep their eye on the ball and start addressing the problem by implementing a conservation program that all citizens can contribute to.
We also urge citizens to attend a meeting of the area’s legislative delegation Jan. 30 in Tavares, where our lawmakers will begin to hatch plans for dealing with the state’s looming water crisis.