On The River: Central Florida Water Initiative

BY SHANNON BLANKINSHIP, Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper

While California receives the bulk of attention for its water shortages, water managers in Florida are also looking for solutions. How will our state meet the growing demand for water with an ever-increasing population? Central Florida is already reaching the sustainable limits of its predominant source of water, the Floridan Aquifer, with average total water use expected to continue to increase from approximately 800 million gallons a day (mgd) to about 1,100 mgd in 2035.

In May 2015, the three water management districts surrounding central Florida formed the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) which created a draft water supply plan that looks to alternative water sources to meet growing demand. Unfortunately, the plan relies heavily on withdrawals from the St. Johns River, reservoirs and tributaries, and not enough on proven, cost-effective conservation strategies. Of the projected 250 million gallon per day deficit, only 37 mgd is estimated to come from conservation initiatives.

In Northeast Florida where we have problems of our own, increasing water withdrawals from the river will only concentrate the pollution and salinity difficulties we face here. Removing fresh water from the river isn’t an answer to our problems; it is an entirely new problem. Here are some of the impacts we could see from less fresh water flows:

  • worsen existing pollution problems;
  • increase the frequency of toxic algal blooms;
  • reduce flow and increase salinity levels even farther upstream;
  • negative impacts on the fisheries, wildlife and submerged vegetation in and along the St. Johns and its tributaries.

The bottom line is that water conservation does work and is without question a much more sustainable, cost-effective and environmentally-responsible solution. Unless we start seeing restrictions similar to those in California, our state isn’t serious about meeting future water needs. Instead, it wants to continue encouraging unsustainable growth and new consumptive uses at the expense of the St. Johns River. Let’s keep the straws out of the St. Johns and the Ocklawaha, quit over-allocating our groundwater, and finally get serious about addressing the root causes of our water-use problems. Why spend billions of dollars and jeopardize the health of our rivers with massive surface water withdrawals when we can meet our future supply needs by using our water resources more responsibly and efficiently?

The comment period is open for the Central Florida Water Initiative is open through July 31, 2015. Check out the draft plan, then submit your comments online, through email, or via mail. http://cfwiwater.com/


About Shannon Blankinship

Shannon Blankinship is the Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper and contributes regularly via the “On The River” column building awareness for the many issues that impact the St. Johns River. Shannon received her B.S. from Purdue University in Natural Resources Economics and Policy and her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is currently an elected official in Duval County serving on the Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a board member for the local nonprofit The Girls Gone Green and regularly contributes articles affecting animals and health. She is a Springfield resident and works to promote all things great in the urban core neighborhoods.