Residents all across Florida were outraged recently when the St. Johns Water Management District (SJWMD) board of trustees voted 6-2 to give even more of the state’s fragile water supply to a Niagara Bottling facility in Groveland.
Even angrier were those who live on and around the Clermont Chain in Lake County. That 15-lake system, designated years ago as one of Florida’s Outstanding Waters, has been plagued by low water for years and is slowly turning into little more than swamp. Lakefront property is no longer lakefront and connecting canals are impassable or nearly so.
“Guides are gone and so are marinas and boat businesses. Hundreds of people who are paying taxes for waterfront property don’t have water anymore,” said Dave Burkhardt, who has lived on Lake Crescent for more than 25 years and is the owner of Trik Fish line company.
“And yet this is supposed to be a highly protected system.”
The Clermont Chain is near both Groveland and the Green Swamp, a massive wetlands system that serves as headwaters for the chain and links to the Floridan Aquifer. And while many of Florida’s chains and lakes have suffered from low water during the past decade, none have come close to drying up the way that the Clermont has.
And yet the SJWMD voted to allow Niagara to double its withdrawal from the aquifer to nearly one million gallons a day. Plus, it gave the company a 20-year permit.
And, as insane as this sounds, the SJWMD put a “conservation” spin on its foolish action in a press release: “The St. Johns Water management District’s Governing Board today approved a consumptive use permit modification for Niagara Bottling that is expected to reduce Niagara's impacts on water resources in Lake County.”
Lauren Ritchie of the Orlando Sentinel had some fun with that, as well as conveyed an important message:
“If doubling the pumping at Niagara ‘reduces the impacts,’ then here's an idea to solve every single water problem that ever threatened Florida: Let's get everyone to turn on their lawn sprinklers March 1 and let those puppies run until Christmas. That ought to do it.
“No wonder taxpayers have lost faith in government officials. Not only do they vote against the best interest of the people who pay their salaries, but they act like they're doing the smart thing and the public is too dimwitted to understand.”
It’s long past time, though, for the Sentinel and other local media to investigate the motives behind the bureaucrats and officials who are allowing the Clermont Chain to dry up, even as they permit a private company to profit even more from a public resource.
You can check out my previous coverage of this issue at these links: