GRU won't ask to pump more water

Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 9:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 9:23 p.m.

The city has started preparations to apply for the renewal of Gainesville Regional Utilities' public supply water withdrawal permit.

With a five-year permit from the St. Johns River Water Management District set to expire in 2014, the plan is to submit an application for a 20-year permit toward the end of this year or in early 2013, said David Richardson, the GRU assistant general manager of water and wastewater utilities.

Thursday, commissioners voted 7-0 to allow GRU General Manager Bob Hunzinger — or his designated staff member — to negotiate and sign consulting contracts of up to $750,000 for work related to the application for a new consumptive use permit.

Richardson said that, despite a projected growth in population over the next two decades, the utility will not apply for an increase in the amount of water it is allowed to pump out of the ground. Instead, it will seek renewal at the current permitted amount of 30 million gallons per day.

While that is the permitted amount, the utility's actual usage is approximately 25 mgd.

Currently, GRU provides water to approximately 190,000 city and county residents and population projections from the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research have that growing by 55,000 over the next 20 years, Richardson said.

He said the utility saw an emphasis on water conservation coupled with the increased use of reclaimed water for irrigation as ways to limit the amount of groundwater pumping.

Richardson noted that average use per day had declined from 96 gallons per day in 2001 to 69 gallons per day in 2010. He attributed that to water conservation efforts and increased public awareness of water resources. Commissioner Todd Chase said he expects the economy has also played a role in the drop in usage.

As for reclaimed water, Richardson said the “primary push” and the more cost-effective plan is to run lines in new subdivisions instead of retrofitting existing neighborhoods.

Commissioner Randy Wells said the city should look at a slew of conservation options — going beyond the use of reclaimed water for irrigation and pushing for landscaping that does not require any irrigation.

Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said irrigation for landscaping is a “sensitive” area for property owners and a “much harder issue” to address than reclaimed water or the consumptive use permit application.

On another water usage issue, city commissioners now appear poised to allow the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department to enforce watering rules — and to write citations for violations — within the city limits when a water management district has an active water shortage order in place.

Over the summer, city commissioners did not approve a county request to opt into the water shortage regulation ordinance because the County Commission had not, at that time, approved the law itself.

The Suwannee River Water Management District did have a water shortage order in place this summer, limiting allowable days of watering to one day a week. It expired at the end of September.

The county ordinance allows for a citation of $50 per violation, but county officials have said their goal is voluntary compliance.

Towing vote delay

Also Thursday, the City Commission, in a narrow 4-3 decision, delayed a vote on a request from tow companies to increase the trespass towing rate.

Instead, the majority decided to kick the issue back to their Public Safety Committee for further deliberations to come up with a methodology for setting tow rates and the possibility of a built-in escalator to keep rates in line with companies' cost increases.

Commissioner Lauren Poe said there needed to be a “justifiable formula” for how the rates were set.

Commissioners Todd Chase, Yvonne Hinson-Rawls and Susan Bottcher dissented. They agreed that the city needed to establish a formula for setting rates but said they supported an increase in the interim to help the companies cover their costs.

Their rationale was that the rates have not increased since 2003, but the cost of doing business has gone up since then.

The current rate for light vehicles is $76. Superior Towing had requested an increase to $100. The Public Safety Committee, which is comprised of Hinson-Rawls, Chase and Poe, instead recommended $84 in a 2-1 vote, with Poe in dissent.

Stan Forron, with Ultimate Towing, said the city had some of the lowest tow rates in the state and it was harming companies. He said it could lead to predatory towing practices to generate revenue.

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