Sunday, December 17, 2023

Breaking the Barriers to the Ichetucknee's Restoration, Part 2

Ichetucknee Head Spring (my photo)

I originally wrote this article for the website of the Ichetucknee Alliance when I was working for that nonprofit organization as their communications coordinator. The article has disappeared from the Alliance's website, so I am republishing it here.

The Barriers & Some Suggestions About How to Break Them (continued from part 1)

Barrier #4: State Funding Priorities. There are at least four large problems with state funding priorities. 

The first problem is that state funding is being wasted on ineffective projects that do not target major water users and major polluters. This is explained in the 2021-2022 Springs Funding Report by the Florida Springs Council (FSC) here:

Water management districts are either unable or unwilling to propose cost effective springs restoration projects that target the major sources of nutrient pollution. Springs funding is being wasted on ineffective projects, some of which are reported to have no benefit to spring water quality or flow. Legislation should be passed to allow other entities, like the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) and accredited land trusts, to directly submit project proposals to the Department of Environmental Protection for consideration for springs restoration funding. (from page 1 in FSC's report) 

Other excellent recommendations for change are listed in FSC’s report, including (from page 2), “Stop preempting local rules and ordinances to improve water quality and reverse previously passed state preemptions.”

The second problem is that state funding priorities neglect North Florida, which has a smaller population and therefore fewer voters than South Florida. South Florida always receives more state funding for water issues.

Barrier Breaker. Given that North Florida’s springs—the largest concentration of springs in the world—is a priceless treasure every bit as important ecologically as the Florida Everglades, funding for water issues should be evenly divided between the two halves of the state, not allocated on the basis of population. 

The third problem is that funding is usually allocated to fix problems rather than to prevent those problems from occurring. Lessons learned from Florida’s Everglades have made it abundantly clear that it is easier and cheaper to prevent problems than it is to fix them after they’ve occurred.

Barrier Breaker. The role of Florida’s water managers needs to be reframed legally and conceptually from “problem fixers” to “problem preventers.” 

The fourth problem is that state agencies mask ineffective actions to protect natural systems by claiming to spend large amounts of money on protection, while, at the same time, failing to take effective actions such as limiting water use and insisting that pollution be controlled at its source. 

Barrier Breakers. Floridians must realize that at their core, our water problems are political problems. Florida voters must insist upon effective actions by electing officials and representatives with strong histories of environmental advocacy and action—candidates who are willing to bring people together to agree that tough decisions are needed, who are willing to make those tough decisions, and who are able to lead by inspiring people to make the changes needed to manifest a new vision for living with Florida’s waters.

Barrier #5: Water Pricing. For rural residents on wells, water is free except for the cost to install and maintain the well and the power required to draw the water. There are no price incentives other than those costs for rural residents to conserve water, although urban and suburban residents on municipal water systems pay fees for their water.

Barrier Breaker: Tiered water pricing for all water users would address inequities in water pricing and encourage stronger efforts at water conservation.

Barrier #6: Lack of a Compelling Vision for the Health of Florida’s Natural Water Systems. It’s been said that if a foreign country were doing to our natural water systems what the State of Florida is allowing to happen to them, we’d be at war. That statement has the ring of truth when you consider that the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute has documented over 20 years of springs health declines; see especially pages 4 and 19 here: 

Barrier Breaker: Florida needs an overall vision to guide water management decisions and the ways we all live with water. We like this vision, below.

Realizing that the health of its people, economy and natural water systems are interconnected, Florida will restore, preserve and protect those natural water systems and will become an international model of wise water use.

What are your ideas for a new water vision for Florida?

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