September 2008, By RONALD L. LITTLEPAGE

The St. Johns River, always beautiful, especially sparkles on a fresh fall day when the temperature finally dips into the 50s after a long, hot summer.

Thursday was such a day in Jacksonville and the river, indeed, sparkled.

The sight was a vivid reminder of why we must protect the city’s greatest natural resource, the St. Johns River.

As you know, battle lines have been drawn over a proposal by the St. Johns River Water Management District to withdraw hundreds of millions of gallons of water a day from the river to quench the thirst of overdeveloped Central Florida.

One of the first fights in that battle is over a withdrawal permit the district wants to give Seminole County.

That permit has been challenged by the Riverkeeper organization and the city of Jacksonville. A hearing is set for next Wednesday.

It’s important that none of the parties challenging the permit get cold feet. Even if the challenge is dismissed, that order can be appealed, which would delay the permit.

Delay is important for two reasons.

First, the district is in the process of conducting a two-year scientific study of what the environmental effects of withdrawing water from the river would be.

Beginning to withdraw water before knowing that impact would be ridiculous.

Second, delay is important because the focus of the debate is beginning to shift more toward where it should have been all along – – conservation.

The argument for withdrawal is this: Our main source of potable water is the Floridan aquifer, which is stressed because of the demands of growth.

For growth to continue, more water will be needed and the aquifer can’t provide it.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” said Cynthia Barnett, a writer for Florida Trend and the author of Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern United States.

Barnett was one of the speakers at a forum on water issues sponsored by the Urban Land Institute that was held this week in Jacksonville.

Instead of finding more water to meet demand, a better approach is to reduce demand, and that can be done, Barnett said, even with a growing population.

A study just released by the U.S. Geological Survey backs that up.

The study found that between 2000 and 2005, water use in Florida decreased 9 percent while the state’s population increased 12 percent.

How could that happen? Conservation.

Barnett suggested a number of ways to reduce water use: low-flow toilets, use of gray water to flush toilets, more efficient ways of irrigating farmland, changing landscaping habits, better reuse of water.

“I would argue we are in control of this,” Barnett said. “A region can prosper while using less water.”

That’s certainly a better course than risking the health of the St. Johns River.

From Staff and Wire Reports
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