DailyCommercial.com: Water Shortages May Stymie Growth

Officials fear future water shortages

By Livi Stanford | Staff Writer at the Daily Commercial livi.stanford@dailycommercial.com

From the Daily Commercial, Sunday, November 24, 2013:
waterWater experts and county officials sounded the alarm Thursday, stating an alternative water source to groundwater use must be found in the next five years to avoid a direct effect on lake levels and the quality of life in South Lake.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of planning,” Commissioner Sean Parks said. “If we don’t plan for water, it could get expensive for you and for all of us. If we lose our water resources, you are losing a lot of sales tax and tourist development dollars. These things fund infrastructure, roads and schools.”

A panel of experts from the Lake County Water Authority and the St. Johns River Water Management District weighed in on the problem of dwindling reserves in the Floridan Aquifer at the first annual South Lake Water Summit.

The three-hour summit held at Clermont City Hall drew a large crowd, including public officials and state representatives.

New growth and development have resulted in more water being withdrawn from the Floridan Aquifer, they said especially with the increase in demand only expected to rise.

But finding alternative water sources is an expensive proposition, especially considering the high demand for reclaimed water and astronomical costs for other sources such as surface bodies of water.

Parks said the issue weighed heavily on him after a conversation he had a few years ago with Fred Sommer, who organized the first triathlon event in Clermont.

‘If you lose the lakes and water resources, you will lose my business and many other businesses, and the quality of life,’” Parks said of Sommer’s cautionary words.

Parks stressed there is an action plan to address the issue.

“We will follow up with action,” he said. “You can in a sense hold us accountable to that.”

Between now and 2025 the population is expected to increase 56 percent, according to county officials.

While the lack of rainfall is a major factor affecting low lake levels, groundwater withdrawals, and human impacts, such as surface water diversions and irrigation, are also contributors, the panelists said.

“There is a demand of 300 million gallons of water by 2035 and we only have 50 million gallons that can be met by our traditional source,” said Alan Oyler, consultant for St. Johns River Water Management District, who is assisting the South Lake Regional Water Initiative. “All of the utilities are going to have to find 250 million gallons of water. For us to meet project demands, we are going to have to import water from someplace else.”

Groveland Mayor Tim Loucks, who founded the South Lake Regional Water Initiative with Parks, said there is not one specific cause of the declining lake levels.

“Rainfall does affect the lake levels and does affect the Floridan Aquifer,” he said. “Once the aquifer goes down, the lakes begin to seep.”

Officials said the most feasible and cost effective alternative water source is reclaimed water from Water Conserv II, the largest world reuse project in Orange County, which “combines agricultural irrigation with aquifer recharge via rapid infiltration basins,” according to information from Conserv II.

But, there are challenges to overcome in this area, as Conserv II officials previously said the demand for reclaimed water is only growing; and they must also meet their own regional needs.

Otherwise, Oyler said the only alternative sources are Yankee Lake, Taylor Creek, Water Co-op, and OUC/Orlando, with the closest alternative resource nine miles away.

Officials said residents would pay $1.62 per 1,000 gallons to withdraw the water from Conserv II compared with $11.22 per 1,000 gallons to acquire it from Yankee Lake.

“That is why planning is important, and I don’t want to be on the hook for being responsible for doing a project like that,” Parks said referring to the alternatives to Conserv II.

Mike Perry, executive director of the Lake County Water Authority, said the cumulative rainfall deficit since 2004 is 62.35 inches, equivalent to 5.2 feet.

“We are 10 inches below the annual average just for this year,” he said.

The panelists gave presentations on low lake levels, the Central Florida Water Initiative, and the South Lake Regional Water Initiative.

The South Lake Regional Water Initiative, consisting of the South Lake Chamber of Commerce, the county and the municipalities of Clermont, Groveland, Minneola , Mascotte and Montverde, have come together to address “regional solutions in the critical areas of reclaimed water distribution, minimum flows and levels of the region’s lakes and rivers, and alternative water supplies and conservation”

They are working parallel to the Central Florida Water Initiative, to find a cost effective and alternative water source.

For more than an hour, residents addressed to the members of the panel questions and concerns. Numerous residents expressed frustration about Niagara Bottling LLC withdrawing 484,000 gallons per day from the aquifer, with a pending permit to withdraw more water.

Meanwhile, others said sand mines, water diversions and irrigation are affecting lake levels.

Ginger D’Amico, angrily spoke out against Niagara’s use of the aquifer.

“I don’t understand the St. Johns River Water Management District in allowing a company as big as Niagara to withdraw 484,000 gallons a day out of the aquifer while we have to potentially pay $11.22 per 1,000 gallons,” she said.

In response, Tom Bartol, water supply bureau chief for the St. Johns River Water Management District, said: “There is this notion that bottled water is an important part of water from the aquifer. It amounts to less than half a percent.”

Even so, Darrell Reeves was still not convinced, expressing his worries about continued withdrawals by the company.

“All you people say our lakes are going down and saying we should conserve,” he said. “We can’t turn around and let a private for profit company suck the water out. I don’t want to tell my kids they can’t go on the lake because some profit company is taking our water and shipping it out.”

Parks said he agreed that the company should contribute if they are going to commercially benefit from it.

But, he said, in order to prevent such a company from receiving a permit, the state statute must change.

Peter Brown said he lives in the heart of the aquifer and said “there is a massive amount of water being destroyed by the sand mines of Lake County.”

While mentioning that he could not speak on a pending case before the county commission concerning a proposed sand mine in the heart of the Wellness Way Sector Plan, Parks said “there are absolutely serious issues (with sand mines) on water resources and traffic, which also affect adjacent lands.”

In an interview Friday, Oyler said it is hard to judge what impact sand mines might have on lake levels.

“It will depend on how the sand mine is using water or diverting (it) for their use,” he said.

One resident questioned the sector plan and whether it would simply bring 44,000 additional people, amounting to urban sprawl.

The sector plan would transform 16,000 acres in the southeast corner of the county into a hub for high-tech health care jobs and other industries. It is expected to attract people who like to bike, walk and enjoy an active, healthy lifestyle.

“Despite whether the sector plan was in the place, 48,000 people could live in that area,” Parks said. “If we did nothing the population growth would occur in piecemeal growth fashion, along with the same issues. Unless we plan.”

There are plans for future summits to address the issues.

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