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Water Policy: Profit from Mistakes Rather than Repeat Them

April 26, 2015 - 6:00pm

California's mismanagement of its water -- and government in general -- is benefiting Florida, but the Sunshine State needs to make sure it doesn't begin making the same errors.

With agriculture wilting in California, some agricultural interests are looking for farmland in Florida, according to state officials. That will help the economy but also put more pressure on the water supply.

Florida is blessed with abundant rainfall and a large body of water beneath the ground. The trick is to manage it to accommodate the growth that the state's weather, environment and favorable business climate attract.

By failing to do that, California has become a disaster. Crazy environmental policies, ruinous taxation, lavish public spending on perks, pensions and choo-choo trains are driving the state into bankruptcy. The liberal politicians in the state continue spending recklessly, nevertheless, apparently counting on the federal government -- i.e., the taxpayers in the other 49 states -- to bail them out of the mess.

Businesses are fleeing to states such as Texas and Florida, and that includes agriculture.

Florida's own agricultural (and industrial) interests are becoming more efficient in water use and its citizens are reducing their consumption of water. The economy may be one reason, but whatever the reason, it helps put off the day when more desalinization or drastic water restrictions become necessary.

Neglecting the water infrastructure, as California has done, is one way to go wrong. Water flow must be managed to avoid wasteful practices such as dumping millions of gallons a day of fresh water into the ocean.

At least in Florida that is done to avoid flooding and protect people and property, not to serve insignificant creatures like the delta smelt at the expense of human beings. But it would be better to save that water for reuse.

The state gets about 51 inches of rain a year. That does not sound like much but every inch equals more than 27,000 gallons on every acre. That may ruin a lot of golf games, but the 30 percent that is not lost to evaporation also recharges the Floridan Aquifer and nourishes the Everglades.

Balancing the use of water with the supply gets more difficult as the population increases. It is estimated the state will need an additional 1.4 billion gallons a day by 2035.

In the 1970s, the Florida Legislature acknowledged that the state has five distinct areas when it comes to water, and created districts in each with a water management board. Each needs to handle its own unique challenges in the best interests of the population it serves, with the proper blend of dikes, dams, injection wells, restrictions, permitting and remedies from other tools available, and oversight from Tallahassee.

Simply buying land is no answer. Nor is central control from Tallahassee that is subject to the shortsighted whims of politicians.

There are reasons people and businesses are fleeing to Florida from states with failed policies. We should learn from the mistakes others make.

Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as a policy analyst for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

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