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Environmentalists Pressure State Lawmakers For Water Management Plan

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It used to be Florida had more water than it knew what to do with. No more. Now Floridians are worried they could run out of water.WMFE's Amy Green reports on how fears of a fresh water crisis are spreading to the state Capitol, where water is expected to be a central issue of the spring legislative session.

Yuri Hanja and his wife Carol live in a tidy, salmon-colored home in Clermont.

Their house is buttressed by drought-resistant zoysiagrass and landscaping.

From their backyard pool, they can see Lake Louisa. A few years ago water levels were so low the lake bottom turned into a sandy beach.

In December, the Lake Utility Services wrote to the Hanjas, telling them to cut back on their water use.

This annoyed Yuri. At the same time, the Saint Johns River Water Management District was poised to approve a request from Niagara Bottling. The water bottler wanted to nearly double the volume of water it draws from the aquifer to 910,000 gallons daily.

Yuri wrote back to the utility:

"Now you're asking my neighbors and I to save 5,000-10,000 gallons per year, and St. Johns is now intending to approve Niagara's request to double their draw of water.

"It's not logical."

The Hanjas aren't the only ones worried that Florida could run out of water.

"We don't have to be the next Arizona."

Former Florida Governor Bob Graham, a longtime environmental advocate, says the state needs a water management plan.

"We've got enough water that nature has given us to be able to essentially lead the same quality of life that we and our parents have lived into the lives of our children and grandchildren," Graham says.

That message resonates with environmentalists.

In December, demonstrators in Orlando presented a "Clean Water Declaration," asserting Floridians have an "inalienable right" to clean water- a right they can no longer depend on.

Lawmakers in Tallahassee appear to be listening. Governor Rick Scott, running for re-election this year, wants more than $520 million for the Everglades and waterways in the state budget, and at least a half-dozen lawmakers are pushing measures to protect the state’s fresh water. Representative Linda Stewart is among them.

The Central Florida Democrat says the goal is to combine the bills into a statewide plan combating pollution and creating storage.

"The state of Florida's citizens want to see something happen, and I think that's why you're getting a little more attention by the legislators. Because they see no matter where they go and where they live they're being talked to about the water and springs," says Stewart.

Central Florida gets about 50 inches of rain annually. But that's not enough for the region's fast-growing population.

The Central Florida Water Initiative–which includes three water management districts, state agencies and local leaders–released a report estimating water use will grow 40 percent by 2035. That's more than what the Floridan aquifer can provide.

"We are running out of fresh groundwater. It's not an infinite source," says Tom Bartol.

Bartol is from the Saint Johns River Water Management District, which helped draft the report.

"Because if we continue to just pump and meet all these future needs with the current source, fresh groundwater, we will see unacceptable affects to the water resources of the area," Bartol says.

Bartol says the alternatives–reclaimed and desalinated water–are much more expensive.

The Central Florida Water Initiative expects to produce a regional water plan this spring. In the meantime environmentalists say they'll keep the pressure on lawmakers to act.

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