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St. Johns River Water Managers Approve Central Florida Water Supply Plan

Ray Hollister

Tuesday, St. Johns River water managers nearly unanimously approved a controversial plan to handle Central Florida’s looming water shortage.

For years, a consortium of water planners took input from agricultural, residential and conservationist stakeholders to craft what they call a balanced plan.

Northeast Florida river advocates are complaining their data is wrong.

On a vote of 8 to 1, the St. Johns River Water Management District Board approved the sweeping water supply plan crafted by the Central Florida Water Initiative.

After years of debate and research, the plan’s authors say they’ve created a balanced blueprint for avoiding a projected California-style water shortage by 2035. The plan includes the possibility of withdrawing millions of gallons of water per day from the St. Johns River in Central Florida.

But St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman says people from the First Coast didn’t have enough input, and she says the plan uses flawed math to determine how much water people use.

“We were promised more conservation would be included in the plan,” Rinaman says. “While it’s included in the narrative, they actually reduced the amount of conservation as a starting point and failed to truly make it a robust, aggressive goal of the Central Florida Water Initiative.”

Rinaman and aligned advocates say although population is projected to increase in the Orlando area, per-person water use has been steadily decreasing. She estimates the plan’s water use numbers are inflated by more than 20 percent.

CFWI’s water supply plan is working on the assumption individuals use around 122 gallons of water per day in Central Florida, but that number is actually between 90 and 100 gallons, Rinamin says.

Still, St. Johns River water managers say the plan can be revised when it’s revisited in five years.

Water management board member George Robbins was the lone dissenting vote, saying he was unhappy with the plan’s inaccurate numbers and the prospect of withdrawing water from the St. Johns.

“I think there’s too much good work to just flat reject it and say, ‘Start over.’ That’s just illogical to me," Robbins said, "but I think there’s some corrections that need to be made before we can approve this plan.”

Shortly before the board adjourned, it passed a resolution adding a letter to the plan clarifying withdrawals were to be a last resort and water-demand numbers should be revised.

But Rinaman says the resolution amounts to “kicking the can down the road.”

Before the CFWI plan can be implemented, it must also be approved by South Florida Water Management District on Nov. 12 and the Southwest Florida Water Management District on Nov. 17.

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.