Water proposal may have dried up

Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 1:10 a.m.

A controversial plan to revamp the way Florida manages its water resources appears dead for this year, a newspaper reported Thursday.

In an interview with The St. Petersburg Times, Gov. Jeb Bush speculated that the 2004 legislative session would see few bills addressing the prickly issue of water transfers.

"I don't think there will be a lot done on water," the governor told the newspaper. "There needs to be a few years of conversation. . . . I don't see the water issues being a big topic for this year."

Bush's comments come more than four months after the release of a report - one the governor has called "provocative" - advocating for changes to Florida's water management structure, including measures that would make it possible to pump water across hydrologic boundaries.

The proposal from the Florida Council of 100, a business group whose members include agriculture executives, sugar growers and newspaper publishers, called for the establishment of a state water commission to manage supplies and oversee Florida's five water management districts, among other measures.

Critics of the report said the measures would lead water-hungry developers in South Florida to North Florida in search of water, eventually opening the state's resources to the highest bidder. Council of 100 water task force Chairman Lee Arnold tried to assuage such fears at a statewide water conference in High Springs last month.

But the criticism of the report has continued, and some fear it is only a matter of time before the proposal is revisited.

"I don't think it's dead," said Chris Bird, director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, which co-hosted the High Springs water conference. "It's been alive for years. As the population increase and the demand for water increases in certain parts of the state, it's not going to go away."

Bird may be right.

"The governor believes that we need to have provocative, outside-the-box thinking, and looks forward to continuing the dialogue on the water issue in both the Legislature and with other groups," Jacob DiPietre, a governor's office spokesman, said in response to questions about Bush's discussion with the Times.

Without offering a time line, DiPietre added that the governor "is committed to finding a long-term solution" to the state's drinking water needs.

Greg Bruno can be reached at (352) 374-5026 or greg.bruno@gvillesun.com.

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