By Preston Haskell
Founder and Chairman, The Haskell Company
The greatest damage to our springs and rivers is being wrought by the vast and almost unchecked overpumping of the Floridan Aquifer. This consequently reduces flow in our springs and rivers making them more vulnerable to surface runoff containing animal waste, nitrates and other pollutants. This in turn causes damage to marine animal and plant life while breeding algae and other harmful plant life.
Almost any agricultural or industrial user – even an individual – may withdraw almost unlimited quantities of pure aquifer water at no cost other than a nominal one-time permit fee. Thus there is no incentive to economize, reuse, or otherwise reduce consumption of this precious, dwindling,and finite asset. If left unchecked, this phenomenon will lead to unacceptable levels of saltwater intrusion, sinkhole formation, destruction of wetlands, and other environmental damage.
In recent years, there have been admirable efforts to reduce household water consumption through such measures as low-flush fixtures, shorter showers and less wasteful lawn irrigation. But these measures have very limited impact and further consumption decreases from them will be relatively small. Yet the most effective means of consumption reduction – pricing aquifer withdrawals – has received almost no debate, discussion or even mention.
In any situation where demand exceeds supply, the pricing mechanism is the most valuable tool available. Charging a price at the wellhead will discourage waste, incentivize the development of new sources, raise new revenues, and bring discipline and economic efficiency to the allocation of our groundwater resources. This in turn will restore our springs, rivers, lakes and groundwater to their natural condition while assuring adequate water availability for responsible users well into the future.
Numerous mechanisms exist for less wasteful use of aquifer water. Spray irrigation, both agricultural and residential, can be replaced with drip, bubble, soaker and seepage methods. Process technologies, including water reclamation and reuse, can vastly reduce industrial water use. Commercial buildings can be fitted or refitted with green roofs, cisterns, condensate reuse systems, and pervious pavements. Households can reduce lawn watering, car washing and inside use. If meaningful and reasonable aquifer withdrawal prices were imposed, users would find it less costly to reduce consumption than to pay for more water.
State revenues resulting from the pricing of aquifer withdrawals could amount to over $1 billion annually, and be used for restoration and protection of our natural resources that have been ravished by unrestrained withdrawals from the aquifer. Our state and its private economic interests would be in a win-win-win position: the cost of aquifer water would be balanced against the cost of water-saving measures, our natural habitat would be enhanced and restored, and the state would enjoy a new source of revenues for environmental protection or related uses.
The way forward begins with galvanizing public opinion to cause legislative action that places a reasonable price on groundwater withdrawals. The need for such action is imminent. To do otherwise would result in further impact on our precious natural resources and will make the ultimate cost of resolving these issues far greater than that which immediate and responsible action will.