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A Times Editorial

Company should be kept away from spring

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


The Southwest Florida Water Management District and the state Department of Environmental Protection should not retreat from their stance against allowing a private company to bottle water that flows from Three Sisters Spring in Crystal River.

Bottling water could alter the habitat of manatees that seek sanctuary in the warm waters at the spring, and would be contrary to the spirit of an easement agreement the DEP has on the land. It also could open the door for other private interests that might seek to profit from a precious and scarce natural resource.

The water management district, commonly known as Swiftmud, has referred the proposal from Three Sisters Spring Water Co. to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, and a decision from that agency is expected in a few weeks. Then Swiftmud's governing board will issue its final ruling.

The water company wants to tunnel pipes into the ground and draw up to 426,000 gallons of water per day from the aquifer that sustains Three Sisters Spring. That may not seem like a large amount when one considers that the spring yields more than 12-million gallons per day. But during times of drought, and when development is placing unprecedented demands on the state's water supply, it is significant.

Another concern is the possible effect on manatees that gather at the spring to escape the colder waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Taking even a relatively small amount of water from the spring could drop the water temperature enough to force the manatees to seek refuge elsewhere. The company has said it would not draw from the spring when water temperatures are very cold, but neither Swiftmud nor the DEP has a procedure to oversee or enforce such an agreement. Even if such a plan existed, it has the potential to become a regulatory nightmare.

Swiftmud and the DEP appear to have had the best interests of Florida residents and their environment in mind as each agency considered this proposal. We urge them to stand fast as this matter winds its way through the state bureaucracy. Protecting the water supply and the manatees are the priorities. Enabling a private company to drain those resources is not.

Recent coverage

Sanctuary would better protect area manatees (January 28, 2001)

Build manatee refuge in Blue Waters area (December 17, 2000)

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