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Like Apple Pie: Everyone Wants Water

By James Call


Tallahassee, FL – A veteran Florida lawmaker has an idea that may help the state in a water quality dispute with the EPA. However, James Call reports farmers and septic tank owners may not like it.

The Select Committee on Inland Waters held six public hearings across the state to document local government and residents' concerns about fresh water. The committee's findings suggest that Florida may spend much of the 21st century correcting the mistakes made transforming it from a swampy backwater into a mega-state. Pepper Uchino, a senate staffer, explained to the committee why all those canals criss crossing South Florida are a problem

"There is a lot of water each day lost to tide. In fact, 1.7-billion gallons of water each day are lost to tide through canals and what not, and those are from drainage projects in the early 40's and 50's that were meant to do exactly what they do, and that is drain Florida of wetlands and water to make it available for development."

That's about the amount of water that nine-million people use on a daily basis. The state's population is expected to double in fifty years, and experts say Florida will struggle to provide the amount of potable water needed by the 38-million people expected to be living here at mid-century. The committee developed thirteen recommendations to conserve, reclaim and protect fresh water.

Chairman Lee Constantine called each of the recommendations a bold initiative. He says the 13-point action plan is more comprehensive than anything proposed by any other Legislature.

"I think the very exciting part about that is these are things that can be done within the very difficult times we have with very little money from either the state coffers or the individuals or the city or county."

That little bit of money may translate into a ten dollar monthly bill for septic tank owners. Efforts to remove septic tanks in communities from northeast to southwest Florida are stalled. The committee proposes creating regional utilities regulating septic tanks. Homeowners would pay a monthly fee, and the utility would assume the upkeep and responsibility for each tank.

"Water is a utility and should be treated as such, and we in Florida have chosen to use 2.3-million septic tanks as part of that water cleansing program. There's 2.3-million septic tanks, and the DOH estimates that between ten and fifteen-percent aren't working. Think of that when you think of your water resources, and you have the EPA hanging over you."

Florida and the EPA are arguing about water pollution standards. What the EPA proposes is opposed by much of the state's business and farming communities. It centers on the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen that washes into ground water. Constantine's committee recommends new regulations to protect the aquifer, establish nutrient load levels, and ban certain fertilizers.

Senator Steve Oelrich says he is a small government kind of guy. However, he says he can support the additional spending, creation of regional utilities, and new regulations because it involves water, the stuff of life itself.

"Everybody is going to have to give a little bit on this, meaning the agriculture interest and so forth. But I think this is one of those things like Apple Pie and so forth. Everyone wants clean water, and now we are going to have to do a little compromise to get there."

No bill has yet to be written. Constantine said the recommendations will be given to the Environmental and Conservation Committee to be fleshed into legislation. He said he is confident about the proposals because the Select Committee passed them with a unanimous vote.