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    A Times Editorial

    Solutions to water crisis

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 6, 2001


    Gov. Jeb Bush's recent summit on the drought was a promising response to this region's water crisis. With forecasts predicting the driest back-to-back years in recorded history, the time has come for state officials to better coordinate water policy before the drought causes more severe environmental and economic damage.

    From state government down to the local level, water is managed in various ways, and the governor's commitment to become more involved helps tremendously by underscoring the seriousness of the crisis. More than 35 elected officials, water regulators, utility heads and representatives from agriculture and industry met last week in Tampa, with the goal of coordinating conservation and finding ways to generate water supply.

    The short-term strategies are apparent and are meeting with some results. Tampa, in particular, has taken a hard line with its watering restrictions. The city's enforcement should be a model for other governments to follow. The severity of the drought in the Tampa Bay area, coupled with the wildfires that shut down Interstate 4 between Plant City and Orlando, make an action plan for this region especially important.

    The state Department of Environmental Protection secretary will act as the clearinghouse for contacts and ideas. Bush unveiled two public service announcements to educate citizens across the state, and he will meet next week with legislators to discuss funding for water development projects. But even smaller steps are important. Cities and counties should rewrite land development codes to promote the use of xeriscaping, or drought-tolerant plants. Public agencies should set an example by xeriscaping parks, rights-of-way and government offices.

    Curbing residential demand only goes so far. The state needs to look at large industrial and agricultural users, and see what practices can change to lower consumption. And cities and counties need to consider tighter reins on growth. The governor's summit was a frank exchange of good ideas, and hopefully the sense of unity it started will steer Florida toward long-term solutions to the water crisis.

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