Sep 10, 2007

NE Florida Warned About Necessity of Water Conservation, Reclamation

When the public was informed Wednesday that Central Florida was looking to tap into the St. Johns River by the hundreds of millions of gallons annually, residents of Northeast Florida shouldn’t have been surprised. At Thursday’s Jacksonville Waterways Commission meeting, St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) Executive Director Kirby Green explained why.

Green warned the Commission that if the Northeast Florida area didn’t start taking water conservation and reclamation seriously, there could be catastrophic issues by the year 2030.

“The public demand for water will double by the year 2025,” said Green, explaining that based on current growth and growth estimates, this area will be using 100-200 million gallons of water a day. Couple that with Central Florida’s desire to use water from the St. Johns River and two of its tributaries — the Ocklawaha River and the Taylor Creek Reservoir — and Northeast Florida may be facing a serious potable water shortage in the future.

Green said there are several keys to preventing a debilitating water shortage. First and foremost, he said, is for the utilities within the SJRWMD to form a partnership with the focus being the reduction of water usage and the treatment of waste water. He said a similar situation occurred in Tampa, which spent 25 years and $30 million trying to solve. Eventually, the Tampa area utilities agreed that cooperation was the best way to preserve ground water reserves.

Green said locally the area will reach its sustainable limits of usable water by 2013. After that, the SJRWMD will not issue any new permits for ground water withdrawals unless major progress has been made. Green said the biggest problem in Jacksonville is the misuse of potable water.

The most plausible solution — and one that may delay major issues by several years — is for Jacksonville to make better use of its reclaimed water. According to Green, Jacksonville only uses about 7 percent of its reclaimed water compared to Orlando and Tampa which, he says, use 100 percent of its reclaimed water for things like irrigation of golf courses and public land.