State Regulators Approve Water Sharing Plan For Northeast Florida

Jan 17, 2017

After years of debate, state regulators have approved a water sharing plan for the Suwannee and St Johns River basins. But conservationists argue the deal doesn’t do enough to protect Florida’s natural resources.

Credit Lee Reed

Based on population projections, the Suwannee and St Johns River districts will effectively run out of water by 2035. At that point, water demand will exceed what managers can withdraw without endangering the environment. That’s why the two agencies have been working for years to develop a joint plan on how to manage the area’s growing water needs. Under the deal, managers will use the same data and work together to find efficiencies and alternate water sources. But Bob Knight with the Florida Springs Institute says the plan doesn’t do enough to curb water consumption by farms and utility companies.

“First of all, put a moratorium on new consumptive use permits. All of them. Secondly, dial back the permits you have right now. It is on the verge of lunacy to give permits out to irrigate crops with the highest quality water we have in the state of Florida, which is our groundwater,” Knight said to the water management board members.

Representatives from the Suwannee and St Johns water management districts listened to scientists’ concerns Tuesday, but say the collaboration is the best way to meet the needs of North Floridians and the environment. Suwannee River District head Noah Valenstein argues the cooperative arrangement is a breakthrough.

“Two districts, both the boards and the staff, have adopted a collaborative mentality and a dedication to the resource together. And that in itself I think is the most important thing to protecting our resources in the future,” Valenstein said.

And after four years of deliberation, the water managers are ready to move forward.