Islands no more

Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 2:38 p.m.

If you stick a giant straw into the ground in Jacksonville and take a really big drink, does it matter to Starke? To Lake City? To Gainesville?

Yes, eventually. Jacksonville's groundwater is Starke's groundwater is Lake City's groundwater is Gainesville's ground water. That the communities of North Florida happen to be divided into two separate water management districts does nothing to retard the flow of ground water from east to west.

The problem is that the eastward flow seems to be accelerating - and groundwater levels dropping - due to increased consumption. The largely rural communities of the Suwannee River Water Management District are not automatically protected against drawdowns caused by higher consumption in the more populous St. Johns River Water Management District to the east. And with Alachua County straddling both districts, grappling with water issues is always a challenge here.

Thus, it's good news that the two districts seem to be making a concerted effort to work more closely together to try to confront the reasons for the eastward drawdown. Officials held their first joint public meeting here in Gainesville on June 18, and plan to meet again in July. With both districts in the process of developing long-range water supply plans, collaboration will be critical.

"The drawdown may impact the health of natural systems and future water supplies in the basin," warns Carlos Herd, water supply project manager for the Suwannee district.

That may be an understatement. Water consumption issues have historically been less critical in the rural counties to the west, and so the Suwannee district is behind the curve in developing adequate conservation policies.

By the same token, the St. Johns district seems to be jumping the gun in glossing over conservation measures and moving toward a policy that will allow large-scale surface water withdrawals from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers; this to accommodate still-growing communities that have failed to make a commitment to conservation.

The water challenges facing this region cannot be overstated. So this new collaborative effort is a welcome, if perhaps overdue, development.

It's clear that when it comes to protecting North Florida's water, neither district can be an island unto itself.

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