Orlando, Orange County Form Pact for More Water

Jan. 6, 2004
New Developments and Population Boom Force Utilities to Seek Additional Water Supply

Orlando and Orange County utilities may team up to develop other sources of treated water in order to keep up with a booming population and new developments, reported an article in the Orlando Sentinel.

A dwindling underground water supply is forcing these utilities to look at alternative water supplies–including salty water or surface water–that likely will be more expensive. The agreement may stop the utilities from fighting over how the underground supply is divided.

The County Commission reported the two leading options, which include the following.

* A water treatment plant that would pull slightly salty water from the ground could be constructed near the Stanton Energy Plant in east Orange County. The first option, favored by Orange County, is to expand a water treatment plant operating near the Taylor Creek Reservoir, which straddles the Orange and Osceola county line.

The plant, owned and operated by the city of Cocoa, pumps water from the reservoir, which would otherwise feed into the St. Johns River, and cleans it. That water would cost at least twice as much to produce as water from the aquifer, a cost sure to be passed along to consumers.
* A water treatment facility that cleans and treats surface water from the Taylor Creek Reservoir in Orange and Osceola counties could be expanded. The second option would be to build a new water treatment facility near the Curtis Stanton Energy Plant in east Orange County. That facility would pump slightly salty water from the aquifer -- as opposed to the fresh water currently being consumed -- and treat it. Cost estimates for this option aren't available yet, according to Hal Wilkening of the St. Johns River Water Management District.

After months of wrangling over how much water OUC should be allowed to pull from the ground to accommodate growth, the dispute may now be resolved in mediation. A solution could be reached by the end of January.

Orange County commissioners will consider in a closed-door session whether to drop their objection to OUC's request for an increase in its withdrawals, opt for a compromise or stick with a plan to take OUC to court, reported the article.

Orange County argues that OUC's request for more groundwater leaves little water for others in the region. Currently, almost all of the region's drinking water comes from the same source.

As more and more people move to Central Florida, wells drilled deep into the ground drain more fresh water from the aquifer. Because drawing from the aquifer is the cheapest way to get drinking water, utilities are fighting over how much access each should have. Water managers warn that the aquifer is running dangerously low.

If either were agreed upon, Orange County would drop its suit against OUC, allowing the utility to gradually increase the billions of gallons of water it draws from the aquifer during the next 20 years. Orange County would get a similar permit to the one they've been challenging.

"This agreement would be a victory for the environment and citizens of the area," said Kirby Green, executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, which grants water-use permits. "It guarantees that those areas are going to be able to continue to grow and meet their water needs."

Without an agreement, the two governments will face a costly legal battle that could threaten cooperation on issues such as transportation and a proposed performing arts center in downtown Orlando.


Orlando Sentinel