Oct. 25, 1974: West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority

The West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority was formed on October 25, 1974. The original Water Resources Act of 1972 had not included provisions for such regional authorities so this was the first major amendment to the new framework of Florida water law. The authority was meant to resolve longstanding disputes among the communities of the Tampa Bay region–who should operate the wellfields, which sources should be shared by more than one government, and what to do about too much pumping at some sites.

Good try, but it didn’t work very well. Overpumping continued and water supply sources were not developed at the pace needed. Moreover, the Authority, local governments, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District became locked in many years of litigation. Progress was made finally in the late 1990s and after by the transformation on October 1, 1998 of the “West Coast” Authority into what is known today as Tampa Bay Water (with very substantial financial assistance from SWFWMD). You can find accounts of these events in books like Mirage, Water Wars, and Florida’s Water.

It is a puzzle worth solving why the successes of Tampa Bay Water and the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority have not been followed by the development of other large, active regional water supply authorities in other sections of Florida. The Orlando region, for example, has major water supply problems reaching across several counties. A regional approach to regional problems has worked elsewhere and would seem to be the best solution for central Florida too.

Comments

Oct. 25, 1974: West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority — 1 Comment

  1. Hi Tom: I agree that the Orlando area’s water supply problems cry out for a regional solution–but I don’t think such a solution is forthcoming any time soon for two related reasons. First, Tampa Bay Water’s problems were “resolved” when Swifmud offered to provide TBW hundreds of millions of dollars to help build a reservoir, desal plant, and surface water treatment facility (which allowed them to reduce groundwater pumping). Since the Governor’s “hit job” on water management district budgets, and the recent mumbo-jumbo about returning to “core missions” (which still cost money) I cannot believe that the St. Johns district will be able come to Central Florida’s rescue. Second, the business and political communities always worship at the temple of endless growth (and prefer NO restrictions on that growth–you know, like planning to help reduce the long term costs of such growth, regulations to protect what’s left of the environment and the ecosystem services it provides, taxes to provide associated infrastructure, and so forth)–and such growth depends on access to cheap water. I think Central Florida will have to experience significant damage to water resources before it occurs to that region’s leaders (and the folks who elect them) that they can’t have it both ways: you can’t slash taxes for water management and then pretend that you can provide the cheap water necessary to fuel endless growth without trashing the environment. The fact is that there are limits to the amount of cheap water available (even if “right of center” business and political leaders continue to ignore these limits). When Central Florida overuses cheap groundwater causing sinkholes, drying lakes and wetlands–or when they suck too much water out of the St. John’s River (causing problems for themselves as well as upstream and downstream neighbors)–it will then occur to the good people of Central Florida that the state has far to many people to get away without paying for water management.