State water study offers alternative

Published: Saturday, January 10, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2004 at 11:17 p.m.
OCALA - The debate over the future of Florida's water won't wither away any time soon.
And on Friday state water managers showed details about an alternative source that may affect any eventual effort to divert water reserves from Marion County or elsewhere.
The St. Johns River Water Management District presented the findings of an 18-month study into demineralization, releasing the top five spots along the Atlantic seaboard where a facility capable of turning seawater into drinking water could be located.
About 30 people, primarily utility executives and government officials, attended Friday's meeting at district headquarters in Palatka, according to Glenn Forrest, project manager for the district.
It's still early, as years of studies and planning lie ahead before any ground can be broken on such a facility.
Still, the crowd expressed plenty of interest, said Forrest, who believes more attention is being paid to demineralization as a way to meet future water needs, which will coincide with the explosive growth in the region's population in coming decades.
St. Johns officials project the population in its 18-county jurisdiction will expand from roughly 4 million to nearly 6 million by 2025. Meanwhile, water usage will grow by almost 40 percent over that time, to nearly 1.9 billion gallons a day.
Demineralization is similar to desalination, but more intensive because all of the minerals are extracted from the seawater, district officials said.
St. Johns spokeswoman Patti Michel said the next step would be for the utilities and local governments involved to determine whether they want to participate further. Then discussion would center on a pilot study and possibly an environmental study, paid for by the district and the interested groups. The district has budgeted $200,000 to partner in such a review.
Pumping groundwater is comparatively cheap, typically costing about $1 per 1,000 gallons. Demineralization would cost from about $2.60 to $5 per 1,000 gallons, according to the St. Johns study.
But given the hot debate in recent weeks over water transfers, generated by the Florida Council of 100, and the uncertainty over what may happen to the state's "local sources first" policy during the next legislative session, local governments, particularly in North Florida, are closing ranks around their water supply.
The reality appears to be sinking in across the state that other sources need to be studied and found.
The effort by Tampa Bay Water, the utility that provides water to the Tampa Bay area, has shown that desalination is a viable option, Forrest said. The consultant's study shows that the facility at the utility's plant on Tampa Bay can produce 1,000 gallons of potable water for $2.49.

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