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Central Florida Water Initiative Plan Provides Long-Range Strategy for Central Florida Region

Published: June 25th, 2015

Michael D. Minton

Central Florida Water Initiative Plan Provides
Long-Range Strategy for Central Florida Region

By Michael D. Minton

While much attention was given to several big water proposals in the Florida Legislature this year, another far-reaching regional water conservation and planning effort has been moving forward without too many people appreciating its importance.

The Central Florida Water Initiative has laid the groundwork for a program that will coordinate the management of water for the next twenty (20) years (until 2035) within the five (5) counties in the Central Florida Region (Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and southern Lake Counties) governed by three (3) water management districts (South Florida, St. Johns River and Southwest Florida Water Management Districts). The flow of ground water and rainfall don’t recognize political or drainage boundaries, and the staffs of these three water management districts, along with the CFWI, have invested thousands of hours into a plan that lays the groundwork for extensive regional coordination of best management practices, conservation, storage and distribution of water.

The plan actually is two documents totaling more than 350 pages. I was privileged to serve on the solutions planning team as the business community’s representative from the Central Florida Partnership.  I can assure you that the final draft documents were a collaborative effort that included all stakeholders. The plan is based on sound scientific and engineering principles, and addresses the reasonable concerns of all stakeholders.

You can view the two documents here:

The Strategy

The Supply Plan

Essentially, the “strategy” document lays out the long-range policy, and the “supply” plan implements it through 2035.

The public has until July 31 to comment on the plan, and then it will go to the water management districts’ governing boards for approval. Meetings have been held across the region to give the public input, and I participated in several meetings in May and June that reviewed the plan with agricultural interests.

As we went through the plan, the comments of growers and ranchers centered on these areas.

Farmers have proven track record in conservation:

For years, growers and ranchers have, without much notice from those outside their industry, been implementing conservation efforts.

For example, many citrus grove owners used to depend on flood irrigation or big water guns to saturate their groves, an inefficient process that resulted in much of the water being wasted. Most groves now use micro-jet irrigation, which involves a lattice work of pipes to each individual tree and delivering much less water directly to its root system. Most row crops now receive water efficiently through drip irrigation systems that deliver water to roots often under cover of a field wrap or through more efficient center pivot irrigation systems.  Many ranchers now retain more surface water on their property.

These conservation measures have worked well, conserving water and providing excellent nutrient management and avoid waste. But, they have been expensive.

Growers have invested heavily in conservation:

Some growers expressed the concern that a blanket requirement for all water users to reduce consumption by a certain percentage wouldn’t take into account the expensive conservation efforts already implemented by most in their industry. That’s a legitimate concern, and the industry has been encouraged to work hard over the next few months to get the word out, explaining the responsible and effective measures it already has taken in water conservation.

Don’t punish efficient users:

A related concern was that the new emerging regulatory regime would punish efficient water users by reducing allocation as permits are renewed.  Under this scenario, a profligate user of water who had been making no effort to conserve would have an advantage in maintaining that user’s allocation in permitted water as compared to a grower who has consistently used less water than allowed under a permit due to conservation efforts.

Growers want to ensure that they retain the flexibility to use all of their allocation in years of drought or freezes, and aren’t penalized for previous efforts to, in effect, come in “under budget” in their water use.

Agriculture should play a big role in solutions:

An opportunity that policy makers recognize is that agriculture should play a significant role in capturing and storing surface water. Florida has more than adequate rainfall to meet all of its needs, if only we could capture and hold more of that surface water rather than draining it to the fragile estuaries along our coast. Paying growers and ranchers for the use of their land to hold water is far cheaper than purchasing land.  These public-private partnerships can be a win-win for the state and growers.

Growers also want the state to build more surface water storage and avoid over-reliance on ground water since a depleted aquifer can have ruinous effects on agriculture, as well as habitat and the environment.  Florida’s springs are a treasure to us all and should be preserved!

Overall, I believe the plan in its current form addresses these concerns. But there is a lot of detail in its implementation and I encourage everyone – especially those whose livelihoods are dependent on a fair distribution of water – to review the plan and offer their comments.

 

Michael D. Minton is a shareholder and chair of Dean Mead’s Agribusiness Industry team. He represents family businesses with an emphasis on generationally-owned agricultural businesses. He assists with their organizational structure, federal income, estate and gift tax planning, and business succession planning. He is vice-chair of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation, a member of the Solutions Committee of the Central Florida Water Initiative and a past vice-chair of the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District. He may be reached at (772) 464-7700 or by email at mminton@deanmead.com.