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Agency to talk about growth, drought

Swiftmud's workshops are expected to be well attended because of worries about the county's water supply.

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- County offices have been overwhelmed by calls about water.

Residents are concerned about the effects of the ongoing drought, said County Commissioner Diane Rowden, and they are worried about the water demands of future developments.

"We have fires; we have lakes running dry. We have people wondering, well, if we have a hard time providing for (the development) we have now, how can we afford to keep pumping the water and provide for more?" she said.

For that reason, Rowden expects good attendance at workshops scheduled for Wednesday at Southwest Florida Water Management District headquarters on an integrated water plan for Hernando County.

The plan, according to Swiftmud documents, is a water use complement to the county's comprehensive growth plan.

"The purpose of this integrated plan is to identify and evaluate key water resource management issues within Hernando County and to develop common district and county strategies to address these issues," the introduction to the 1995 plan said.

"The plan is intended to serve as a tool to foster the integration for land use planning and growth management activities of local governments with . . . water management activities."

The district rewrites the integrated plans for each county about every five years, said Joe Quinn, Swiftmud's government planning coordinator. Swiftmud also draws up a districtwide plan, which was completed last year.

The county plan will include four main components: water supply, flood protection, water quality and natural systems.

"With the drought, we'll probably hear about water supply," Quinn said. "That will probably be the big issue this year."

When the plan is completed, residents will find a document densely packed with useful information, Quinn said. What they will not see are new rules regarding water use or even detailed advice on how to solve water problems.

"It's not prescriptive on anybody. It's not laying down rules, saying, 'This will be done.' It's to try to better link land use planning with water management planning," Quinn said.

It also will provide information that can be used to identify projects that would be paid for by the county and Swiftmud to improve water quality or to conserve water.

A review of the 1995 plan shows that the general issues in Hernando County have changed little during the past six years.

The reservoir of underground water in Hernando County is generally good, the 1995 report said. But the aquifer in western Hernando is especially vulnerable to contamination because the sandy soil allows rainwater to flow into it quickly.

In 1995, elevated nitrate levels had recently been found in the county's springs -- a finding attributed to the heavy fertilization of lawns and golf courses that continues today.

The last plan noted that record low water levels had been measured in several lakes and in the Withlacoochee River. Many of those records, including flow in the Withlacoochee, were broken last year.

"County residents are concerned about declining lake levels and domestic well failures," the plan noted.

"In addition, concerns have been raised about the potential for future development and export of water to other counties."

At a glance

What: Workshops to give residents input on an integrated water plan for the county.

Where: Southwest Florida Water Management District headquarters, U.S. 41, south of Brooksville.

When: Twice on Wednesday -- 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

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