Lucinda Merritt: We agree - threats to our aquifer are real
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 4:31 p.m.
Something remarkable happened at the recent Springs Conservation Summit organized by Robert Knight of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute.
Thirteen people from private businesses, governmental agencies, advocacy groups and a public utility agreed that the health of the Floridan Aquifer — the source of drinking water for millions of people in North and Central Florida — is threatened.
The list of people who acknowledged threats to the aquifer is impressive:
* Ann Shortelle, Suwannee River Water Management District
* Jim Stevenson, Florida Park Service (retired)
* Ron Cunningham, The Gainesville Sun (retired) ("No question" that there are threats.)
* Erich Marzolf, Suwannee River Water Management District ("We are not at a sustainable place"; some places are "farther downhill than others.")
* Mark Wray, Ginnie Springs
* Chris Bird, Alachua County Department of Environmental Protection
* Lars Andersen, Adventure Outpost
* Helen Miller, city of White Springs (Mentioned "serious threats" and a "culture of infinite water availability.")
* Katie Tripp, Save the Manatee Club
* Boyd Blihovde, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
* Rob Williams, Center for Earth Jurisprudence
* Anthony Cunningham, Gainesville Regional Utilities
* Lisa Gordon, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("The systems are dropping to historical lows.")
To the disappointment of many in the audience, representatives of the Florida departments of environmental protection and agriculture and consumer services left prior to the discussion about aquifer threats.
There has been a lot of news lately about the sad condition of Florida's springs, and many people may wonder what all the fuss is about. There's a simple answer to that question: Because our springs are windows into the Floridan Aquifer, they are the "canaries in a coal mine" that warn us about potential aquifer problems and potential drinking-water problems.
If too much water is withdrawn from the aquifer and too much pollution goes into it, problems of dry wells, poisoned wells, saltwater intrusion and human illness inevitably follow.
In places such as Cedar Key, Hastings and areas around Manatee Springs, some of those problems are already occurring. Problems with the aquifer are equal-opportunity problems because they can affect all of us: householders, farmers and ranchers, public utilities, businesses, our economy and quality of life.
Floridians need to make a choice. Do we want to continue pumping our aquifer down to non-functioning levels so taxpayers will be saddled with costs of big, expensive alternative water supply projects? Or do we want to change direction?
It's clear to many of us that Florida needs a new vision for water use. Instead of continuing to lower our aquifer by giving water permits to all who request them, we need a moratorium on new permits much like the one enacted last year in Georgia.
We need meters on all wells so we know how much water we're using and can conserve accordingly. We need a new water ethic—a statewide push for water conservation across all sectors of our economy, public and private—because what happens on the coasts can affect the aquifer in the middle of Florida.
We need an infusion of the "right crop, right place" philosophy into our agricultural community. We need a statewide task force to bring together the best minds of our water scientists, engineers, agriculturalists, innovators and builders to create radically new solutions to our water problems.
We have a choice: wreck our springs and wreck our aquifer, or save our springs and save our aquifer. And remember — it's that same aquifer that supplies our clean drinking water.
Instead of getting bad press about water issues, Florida could become an international model of wise water use. It's up to us — "We, the people" — to let Tallahassee know what we want.
Lucinda Faulkner Merritt lives in Fort White.