Annette Long: It's our water


Published: Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:07 p.m.

Is the Florida Department of Environmental Protection rewarding water conservation or moving toward water privatization?

I read with interest the recent opinion piece by Greg Munson of Florida DEP regarding “Rewarding communities for water conservation” (Sun, Jan. 12) and I think there's something other than conservation happening here.

The main goal of the department's consumptive-use permitting rule changes is not conservation, if you consider conservation to be a permanent reduction in the amount of water that we are already using.

Instead of working to leave more water in the aquifer — water that our lakes, rivers and springs desperately need — DEP is proposing to lengthen the duration of water-use permits so users do not “lose” the water they have “conserved.” That means that water is not actually conserved at all.

By doing this, DEP provides incentives for public utilities and others to overestimate the water they need — not conserve it. If no one requests a hearing by Jan. 23, these rules are a done deal.

Florida's current water laws declare that water in Florida belongs to everyone — in other words, no one in Florida can own the water in the ground under their feet or in navigable rivers and lakes.

Our rules were written to protect existing water users as well to maintain the health of our natural water bodies. If we didn't have water laws, there wouldn't be any fresh water left in Florida.

Every Floridian has the right to use rivers and lakes that are navigable and have legal access for recreation. Every Floridian also has the right to use free groundwater or suitable alternatives for reasonable beneficial purposes as long as it doesn't hurt those who already hold water permits.

This new rule takes the first steps toward water privatization by allowing individuals or companies to trade water credits or sell rights to huge quantities of water rather than putting that water they don't need back into the public domain.

Privatizing public water supplies does not cause the price of water to go down in the long run. It causes expensive new problems. Historically taxpayers usually end up footing the bill to fix them.

When you factor in rising temperatures, unreliable rainfall and our plummeting fresh water supplies, water permits should be getting shorter, not longer.

What is really interesting to me is that the rule changes DEP is proposing were introduced in our 2012 legislative session and failed to pass because of concerns that they were the first steps toward water privatization. Now, it seems that since the legislature would not comply with the wishes of FDEP, that agency is collaborating with the water management districts to change the rules through backroom deals in Tallahassee.

It's also very interesting that both the head of DEP and the boards of the water management districts are appointed by Florida's governor.

We Floridians need to wake up, or our water will not be ours any longer.

Annette Long is president of Save Our Suwannee.

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