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Will Florida’s impending water crisis be addressed by state Legislature?

As the 2014 session draws to a close, it looks less and less likely

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By the time the 2014 legislative session ends on May 2, the House and Senate will have looked at nearly 1,000 bills each. They’ll have addressed everything from the establishment of a Law Enforcement Officers Hall of Fame to penalties for the possession of spiny lobsters in Florida to creating an official Florida Storytelling Week. But one issue they won’t have addressed, at least not in any meaningful way, is the potentially devastating water shortage staring down the entire state.

“Another year has gone by without tackling one piece of water quality or quantity issue legislation,” says state Rep. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, who sponsored a Springs Revival Act that was introduced in the House on March 4 and has gone pretty much nowhere since then. “We’ve had not one single discussion about it.”

The problem, says Stewart (and water-conservation experts), is that the state keeps putting off dealing with water conservation and quality issues, despite the fact that our population is growing quickly – as a result, water demand is going up while supply is becoming dangerously low.

According to the Central Florida Water Initiative, Orlando is using as much water as it safely can from the supply in the Floridan Aquifer, where 90 percent of the region’s potable water comes from. Though we treat the aquifer as if it had a never-ending supply of water, the quantity is finite. In fact, we’re already at a point where we’re taking as much water from the aquifer as it has to give.

“The current levels of groundwater withdrawals in the Orlando area are reaching the limits of sustainability,” says Hank Largin, public communications coordinator for the St. Johns River Water Management District, which is part of the Central Florida Water Initiative. Currently, the region pulls approximately 800 million gallons of water per day from the aquifer – and it can’t handle much more. “Technical experts from the Central Florida Water Initiative teams have determined that only about 50 million gallons per day remain.”

But growth projections (and constant requests from businesses, cities and counties who want permission to pump ever more water from the aquifer to meet their needs) say that over the next 30 years, demand for water from the aquifer is going to far surpass what it can deliver.

As we pump more and more out of it, we run the risk of saltwater intrusion – as aquifer levels run low, they make way for coastal waters to flow inland. Saltwater intrusion can make fresh water undrinkable, increases the presence of minerals and nutrients in bodies of freshwater and can harm crops. Too much pumping will also mean noticeable drops in the water levels in local lakes, rivers and streams, and reduction of flow in springs (which is already happening), as well as shrinking wetlands, which are vital for filtering pollutants from the water that reaches them.

Yet, water-management districts continue to issue permits to businesses that want to increase the amount of water they currently consume.

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