The Bradenton Herald
(c) Copyright 2002, The Bradenton Herald. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Panel urges joint funding WATER SYSTEM UPGRADE
Herald Staff Writer
Facing a potential $1 trillion price tag to add new
water systems and
upgrade old ones, the days of government paying for projects must give
way to an era of shared costs, a group of experts said Monday.
That new approach would bring together agencies,
organizations to plan and pay for new treatment plants, pipelines and
other water projects, said panelists at a water management seminar held
"The challenge is to partner more eagerly and more
we ever have before," said Steve Seibert, secretary of Florida's
Department of Community Affairs.
"I believe that most decisions that matter to people -
not all of
them, but most - are made at the community level," he said. "The second
part of the principle that I believe is that this is the age of
The comments came during a meeting of water district
government officials, business executives and others. Often at odds over
water issues in past years, the sides hashed out how to meet a predicted
surge in demands and desires.
Local, state and federal governments historically have
role of meeting those needs. But those bodies may balk at paying
billions of dollars a year for decades - per a report prepared for
Congress - to complete the needed work.
Florida faces a double whammy. Even as the Sunshine
ranks of transplant and native-born residents fuel demand spikes, its
drinking water, sewage treatment and other water systems continue to
"That infrastructure is now 40-50 years old," said
governing board chairman for the Southwest Florida Water Management
District. "The reality is, that existing infrastructure needs to be
In the water district alone, which includes all or parts
counties, including Manatee and Sarasota, it will cost about $1.3
billion to meet the expected increase in water demand by 2020.
Taxpayers likely won't embrace boosting their bills to
meet the extra
needs, so water leaders turn to other options.
District officials already have found a couple. They
have teamed with
private developers on a desalination plant to provide drinking water
from Tampa Bay, and are working with large-scale farmers to reverse a
swamp die-off in Manatee.
A 1997 study fingered farming runoff during the dry,
spring months as
a primary cause in the drowning death of thousands of trees in the
3,500-acre Flatford Swamp near Myakka City.
Unable to pinpoint the culprit, and fearing a protracted
if they tried, district leaders instead offered to partner with Falkner
Farms and Pacific Tomato Growers to catch and reuse irrigation water.
The district has funneled roughly $1.85 million into the
effort, to match the $1.6 million pumped in by Falkner and $250,000 by
The two-year-old project already has helped restore life
"important jewel of wetland systems," said Gene Heath, assistant
executive director at the district. And officials want more.
"Hopefully," Heath said, "we'll stay together as time
The same can be said for burgeoning public-private
efforts around the
state. Florida lawmakers noted as much during the past session, Seibert
said, when they called for consensus building as they passed a growth
That framework, which focuses on school construction and
planning, took shape only after myriad debates among and agreements
between regulators, builders, officials, environmentalists and others,
That spirit, he said, has carried over to meetings like
Monday, hosted jointly by the water district, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and the non-profit National Council for Public-Private
And to drive home that point, he pointed no farther than
meeting held recently in Marco Island.
"For all you old water warriors out there," he told
attendees, "we had discussions about relationships and trust. We
actually used the 'T' word in discussions about water and its importance
in the future of Florida."