Water debate to flow at Sun forum

Published: Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 28, 2014 at 10:46 p.m.

The state legislative session doesn’t start until Tuesday and yet there has already plenty of hype that this will be “the year of water.”

Several state senators have been crafting a nearly $380 million measure to restore and safeguard springs. Business and citizen groups have been formed in recent months with the stated goal of working to protect water quality and quantity. Even Gov. Rick Scott, hardly a cheerleader for conservation, agrees that something should be done.

But there is cause for skepticism. Scott proposes spending $50 million on springs projects, a relative pittance as compared to the size of the problem. House Speaker Will Weatherford has said that funding for water projects will be considered this session, but big water policy decisions will likely wait until next year.

As Florida Springs Institute Director Robert Knight pointed out in his column today, this isn’t the first time that alarms have been sounded about water resources being depleted. He cites the Orlando Sentinel’s 2002 series as warning of an imminent water crisis.

Flash forward to last fall, when The Sun started its Fragile Springs series. The stories showed that North Florida’s springs have been losing flow and turning green due to excessive groundwater pumping and pollution.

It’s long past time for a serious debate on these issues, but there are limits to having a lively give-and-take in a newspaper. That’s why The Sun is holding a water forum this month.

The Fragile Springs forum will be held March 10 at 7 p.m. at Santa Fe College’s Fine Arts Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

It will include a panel discussion featuring Knight, Florida Farm Bureau Director of Government and Community Affairs Charles Shinn, Gainesville Regional Utilities Supervising Engineer Rick Hutton, Springs Eternal Project Co-director John Moran and Suwannee River Water Management District Executive Director Ann Shortelle.

I’ll be moderating. Suggestions for questions can be emailed to nathan.crabbe@gainesville.com. There also will be time for audience questions at the event.

The intent is having a discussion that is lively yet respectful of differing opinions. My view is that an editorial page editor’s role is curating a thoughtful community conversation featuring a variety of views. The goal would be extending that concept from the printed page to a public forum.

To that end, The Sun plans to hold more community events in the future. Our sister paper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, has had success with its Hot Topics series featuring discussions on issues such as growth and homelessness.

We’d like to do something similar here. Email me your ideas for possible topics.

It’s fitting that water will be our first topic. From longtime Gainesvillains who learned to swim in Glen Springs to more recent transplants like myself who fell in love with North Florida floating down the Ichetucknee, the springs have left an indelible mark on our region’s residents.

The Fragile Springs forum’s panelists care deeply about the issue of water. We hope that you’ll attend to show them and the lawmakers making decisions on the issue that they aren’t alone.

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