Where cometh and goeth our water?

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
December 2006

Indian River County Commissioners and the county’s utility department are holding a belated, but much-needed workshop, on our future water supply needs 3-5 pm on December 6th in the county commission chambers. This is a very important workshop, and you may be surprised to hear from St. Johns River Water Management District about the difficulty our county will have in providing water after 2013 from ground water or deep wells. Indian River County is in especially bad shape since it now depends totally on deep wells and does not use surface water at all for public drinking. Melbourne and Brevard County are lucky to have Lake Washington and support from a water management district that is looking out for their interests by supplying our county’s water to them.

The 2013 date resurfaced again from a September 18, 2006, action plan report by three water management districts (St. Johns River, South Florida, and Southwest Florida). It was initiated because these traditional deep wells cannot meet current and future demands. Also actions in one district can impact water resources and water users throughout central Florida.

Lesser Yellowlegs by Bob Montanaro.

Previously, there were apparently mixed signals from St. Johns. As of last year they had indicated that our county had a “sustainable water supply plan based on drilling 6 new artesian wells at their North County Well Field.” This is surprising since Dr. David Toth, a hydrologist, also from St. Johns, stated in a couple of reports (all the way back to 1994!) that there would be a loss of artesian flow and salination at current usage of artesian water by the county. His concerns were similarly express last year at our general meeting.

Actually, our own county utility department must have also been aware of our county’s water problems because St. Johns had already imposed restrictions on the use of water for watering our lawns and many private shallow wells were drying up or becoming unusable as salt intrudes. More disturbing, the South Florida Water Management District had prohibited any increases in pumping from our county’s south well field to protect St. Lucie County’s water supply! The September interdistrict action plan states, “…there is an immediate need to develop and implement alternative water supply projects in addition to continued aggressive conservation and reuse of reclaimed water.”

The year 2013 is tomorrow! What is the solution? Desalination of lagoon and seawater, a frequently proposed solution, is extremely costly and has serious technical and environmental problems where it has failed in Tampa Bay. Our county’s Soil & Water Conservation District simply recommends storing the 50 inches of rain we receive on average every year, which now goes into the lagoon or to the St. John’s River marsh. We need to stop the regular flow of our canals into the Indian River Lagoon and divert the water into storage reservoirs. Parts of the old master storm water plan should now be dusted off, reviewed, expanded, and implemented to save our storm water for our water supply. Storing and using surface water from a reservoir will also be expensive. This is. of course, another hidden cost for our “out of control county growth,”for which we all will have to pay more with our taxes. The days of cheap water are disappearing like cheap gas.

Also the Dec 6th workshop will provide an opportunity to express your concern with St. Johns for trading off public conservation lands (Berry Groves) to a private corporation, Fellsmere Joint Venture, who insist on converting these conservation lands to agricultural lands to facilitate a bad land deal for Indian River County. The Berry Groves land involved in the swap is directly west of I95 and south of Fellsmere and may in fact provide an important site for a future county reservoir. This land was on the County’s list of environmental lands to purchase, at bargain rates a few years ago, but St. Johns went ahead and purchased them without the county’s participation. Now St. Johns wants to trade public owned conservation lands to privately owned Fellsmere Joint Venture, who certainly will eventually turn it into a large residential development. This sets a dangerous precedent of selling off already public preserved lands for future development.

If you come to the Dec 6th workshop, you might also ask, “Why doesn’t Indian River County have a representative on their Governing Board?” Our county is home to the headwaters of the St. Johns River and soon will need this water for our burgeoning population. Yet, St. Johns owns one-third of our county. This workshop will give you an opportunity to find out and voice your concern about our water problems. Hope to see you there.

In spite of our water problems, enjoy the Holidays,
Richard Baker, President

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