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Duval Lawmakers Say 'No' To St. Johns Water Withdrawals

Ryan Benk
Members of the Duval County Legislative Delegation voted to approve a resolution opposing more water withdrawals from the St. Johns River Thursday.

Northeast Florida lawmakers are opposing a plan for Central Florida to withdraw more than 150 million gallons of water from the St. Johns River every day.

The Duval County Legislative Delegation passed their mostly symbolic resolution Thursday.

Conservationists are applauding the delegation’s move.

Duval County lawmakers are drawing a line in the sand when it comes to allowing Central Florida to withdraw so much water from the St. Johns River.

But Jacksonville Republican Representative Lake Ray said finding support for Duval’s resolution in Tallahassee will be like swimming against the current.

“Our challenges are is [sic] that we have a fewer number of members in our delegation than they do in the Orlando area,” Ray said. “So, getting legislation passed is going to be a greater challenge for us.”

The Central Florida Water Initiative is a consortium of water management officials. The group suggests the river withdrawals, along with urban conservation efforts, to supply a growing population around Orlando.

But the concern is pumping more freshwater from the river will drive up salt levels, further damaging the fragile ecosystem.

It’s the same reason why the St. Johns Riverkeeper is opposing dredging at Jacksonville’s port, but the delegation has traditionally supported the proposed deepening.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said dredging and pumping in Central Florida could be a deadly combination.

“Right now, unfortunately this river is threatened by the deep dredge of the St. Johns, it’s also threatened by water withdrawals and unfortunately it’s been historically plagued with pollution,” Rinaman said. “All of these cumulatively impact our St. Johns [River] and can really render a state of collapse if we’re not careful.”

Still, Ray said the withdrawals are more harmful because they affect the river’s flow. The Riverkeeper said it’s putting finishing touches on its federal lawsuit to stop the dredge. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.