By Greg Gullberg
Feb. 14, 2013
White Springs, FL - North Florida is known for its natural beauty like the Suwannee River. But many of these rivers, lakes and springs are on the verge of drying up for good.
Mayor Helen Miller of White Springs has been studying the findings of the Suwannee River Water Managment District. She tells us it's because the water is being used up faster than it can be replenished.
"The springs and rivers of North Florida are the heart and sole of this area. People have grown up hunting and fishing, they kayak, they boat," said Mayor Miller.
The problem is us, all of us who use public water provided by municipalities. Vast water shortages are nothing new in Florida. But Mayor Miller says there is too little regulation over "Pumping Permits" that allow cities to drain the rivers and springs.
The Suwannee River is at near record lows. The river is a good six feet below the water line. And Mayor Miller worries that if things keep going the way they are this river could be all dried up in a matter of years.
Mayor Miller says the biggest threat to North Florida water ways is Jacksonville. 300,000 people draw water from the "Jacksonville Electric Authority", the largest community owned utility company in Florida. Mayor Miller says the data shows between 10% and 15% of the water is lost in their distribution systems.
"We'd like the JEA to go ahead and make the needed improvements. Buy new pipes, become efficient, conserve. But they need to make repairs so they don't lose the 10 to 15 percent," said Mayor Miller.
But the problem is much bigger than that.
"Everyone who asks for a permit seems to get it. From what we understand, from all the permits that have been granted people can pump more water than there actually is available," said Mayor Miller.
To fix the problem, a coalition of community leaders from 11 different counties have banned together to form "FLOW". "Florida Leaders Organized For Water". Mayor Miller is the Vice Chair.
FLOW is proposing legislation to require state leaders to fund the development of a comprehensive plan to monitor the pumping permits and restore impaired water bodies. It will also call for more programs to educate citizens on better water conservation practices.
"Since we don't have our state leaders coming up with new ideas, we felt it's time to do it ourselves. That's what the legislation is all about. Some practical ideas for improvement in our water ways," said Mayor Miller.
For now, there's no telling if this legislation will make any progress in this year's session or if 2013 will be the year water conservation takes center stage.
"We all know we're all part of the problem. And we've got to get together and be part of the solution," said Mayor Miller.
FLOW is working on finalizing the legislation in the next couple weeks before the Spring session. Mayor Miller will also be speaking at the "Springs Restoration Summit" next month in Dixie County.