Not in Byrd's back yard
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 13, 2003
Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd's parochial views on water threaten to return the region to the political and legal battles that dominated public water supply decisions for more than two decades.
Byrd authorized an ill-advised amendment to a pending House bill (HB 1069) that would allow local governments to veto a water supply authority's groundwater pumping projects proposed for their jurisdictions. Byrd's meddling is intended to keep Tampa Bay Water from pursuing the Cone Ranch project in the speaker's eastern Hillsborough County district. Pumping 8-million gallons of water a day from Cone Ranch remains on the authority's list of potential future water projects, in part, because groundwater is more affordable than desalination and other new sources.
Byrd's not-in-my-backyard thinking would undermine the carefully negotiated deal that the Legislature accepted for Tampa Bay Water in 1998. Under the contracts that ended the expensive legal fights over environmental damage from excessive groundwater pumping, Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties and the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey agreed so-called donor governments had the exclusive right to appeal the appropriateness of new water projects to an administrative law judge.
Seeking impartial legal review of the environmental aspects of new groundwater pumping isn't good enough for Byrd. He wants future groundwater eliminated from Tampa Bay Water's long-term plans -- at least when the wells could end up in his district.
Pumping too much groundwater can indeed produce undesirable results, but alternative water supplies, such as desalination plants, are not without potential risk as well. The challenge is to obtain the best science, limit the risks and work cooperatively for regional benefit. In that context, giving individual governments veto authority would be likely to end the generally cooperative efforts Tampa Bay Water has used to supply water to 2.1-million people while relieving lakes and wetlands damaged from overpumping in central Pasco and northern Hillsborough counties.
Byrd's amendment is not about science and careful water planning. It's about the exercise of political power. Sanctioning costly governmental feuding in the Tampa Bay region serves no purpose. Byrd should withdraw this amendment and use his position to strengthen the cooperative effort, not weaken it.
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