ASR trends

Florida Atlantic University professor Fred Bloetscher and three co-authors have just published their “Lessons Learned from Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Systems in the United States.” Florida has more ASR wells and more operating systems than any other state:

ASR by state

The article surveys problems experienced in constructing and operating ASR projects. Nationwide, about a quarter of ASR projects have been abandoned. Half of Florida “sites are no longer active or have wells that are no longer used” (p. 1617). ASR systems can be very effective but are not a magic solution to water supply problems.

[Best holiday wishes to all–next post will be in 2015.]

Fertilizer down

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, fertilizer sales have declined in the last decade. Year-to-year tonnage varies substantially but two-year averages less so. For example, the average of years 2011 and 2012 is less than the average of 2001 and 2002. Total multi-nutrient tonnage declined by about a quarter. “Nonfarm” uses decreased much more than farm uses. The same general trends are reported for nitrogen and phosphorus tonnage. Good water quality news because, potentially at least, lower sales of fertilizer could mean less deposited in surface and groundwaters.

Tools awaiting use

The Florida water law toolbox has several handy tools that are used very seldom (or never). For an example, look to the fundamental premise of water use permitting that an application must be “in the public interest.” Unfortunately, that foundational premise has “never been articulated clearly by either the legislature or the water management districts.”  (p. 433). If a serious attempt were made to issue permits only when clearly in the public interest, decisions likely would be much different.

A second potentially important, but little-used tool, is reservations of water from permitting. The WMD governing boards, and DEP, have the power to

...reserve from use by permit applicants, water in such locations and quantities, and for such seasons of the year, as in its judgment may be required for the protection of fish and wildlife or the public health and safety. (s. 373.223(4), F.S.)

There have been only a few reservations adopted to date.

A third important (but ignored) tool supplied in the Florida Water Resources Act is the ability to manage uses directly to protect recreation and fish and wildlife:

(3) The department and governing board shall give careful consideration to the requirements of public recreation and to the protection and procreation of fish and wildlife. The department or governing board may prohibit or restrict other future uses on certain designated bodies of water which may be inconsistent with these objectives.
(4) The governing board may designate certain uses in connection with a particular source of supply which, because of the nature of the activity or the amount of water required, would constitute an undesirable use for which the governing board may deny a permit.
(5) The governing board may designate certain uses in connection with a particular source of supply which, because of the nature of the activity or the amount of water required, would result in an enhancement or improvement of the water resources of the area. Such uses shall be preferred over other uses in the event of competing applications under the permitting systems authorized by this chapter. (s. 373.036, F.S.)

Why have these tools been overlooked? The most probable reason is that their use would offend too many important interest groups.

A full water policy toolbox but with forgotten tools?

Studley toolbox

Tool box made by Henry O. Studley (1838-1925) for his work in making and repairing pianos. Now in the Smithsonian, it a masterpiece of craftsmanship and holds over 300 tools in a space of 40” x 20” (when closed).

Conceivably, it might be desirable to add more tools to the Florida water law toolbox. We should keep in mind, however, that the 160,000 words in the current Water Resources Act are the product of four decades of refinement. The statute already contains many, many tools for effective water management, including some never used at all or used very rarely. A number of those available tools, like reservations of water and use zoning, could do a lot of good if applied more often and appropriately.

Rather than create more legal tools for a water policy toolbox already full of them, it would be wiser to select the right tool already at hand. No reason to duplicate an existing tool or invent a left-handed screwdriver.

Teeny-tiny water policy toolbox

We hear once again how the next legislative session will be the “year of water.” Why it this so hard to accomplish? Answer: Many of the best policy tools are not allowed on the job site.

How about additional water regulation, like more efficient plumbing standards to save money and water? Nope, not to be considered.

Re-examine existing tax incentives that encourage water use and pollution?  No way, buddy.

Restricting residential landscape fertilization practices? Verboten.

Maybe put in place some price incentives, creating a fee per thousand gallons of water or pound of fertilizer? That certainly would reduce wasteful and damaging water practices–but any new fee is anathema.

The Legislature could take a look at the state Water Plan and decide what deserves more or less emphasis, right? Shhh–no Plan is needed.

Maybe update the state Climate Plan to make sure that the water management system can adapt to rising sea levels, higher temperatures, and changing rainfall patterns? Whoops–throw that one as far back in the woods as you can.

How about incorporating national water advice, like that in books or foundation reports? Nah, not wanted.

Maybe adopt the recommendations from recent collaborative efforts in Florida? Nope, put that down the memory hole, like right now.

Wait, here’s one additional obvious idea–summarize and draw lessons from the many recent statewide public hearings held on this important topic. What’s that? You say no such meetings were held around the state? Oh.

Fixing big Florida water problems requires more than a minute toolbox containing only a few tiny policy ideas.