Posted by: floridanature | October 7, 2008

Water Wars: Puc Puggy meets the Suits

I was planning to take in some more of the legal hearing that pits the Riverkeeper against Seminole County and the water management district over their scheme to siphon water from our St. Johns River.

But, to tell you the truth, I was just about saturated with misinformation and irony from last week. Besides, I had turned back to “Bartram’s Travels” again because I really did need the vintage honesty and respect inherent in that work of art. The modern smoke-and-mirror stuff was really getting to me. Bartram, as well as anyone before or after, reminded us that nature is sacred, that springs are magical fountains of ether, that humans have no more dignity or standing in the universe than any other part of God’s creation. The Creeks called the gentle explorer “Puc Puggy,” Flower Hunter, because he collected wildflowers from the shores and fields near the river.

One attorney for the water-takers actually said: “This is not about future water withdrawals, but about (withdrawing) 5.5 million gallons a day.” Yet, we know that such a legal victory allows a precedent that opens the door for the taking of up to 250 million gallons of day—between the St. Johns and the Oklawaha Rivers. We also know that, once the flood gates open, pending or planned permits intend to take up to 400 mgd worth of river in our region to fuel growth and development.

Another attorney for the water-takers reminded us that our put-upon Floridan Aquifer can no longer be used sustainably for future groundwater withdrawals after 2013.

He didn’t say so, but anyone who’s visited a Florida spring lately knows why. It’s because almost every Florida spring measured for magnitude is declining in outflow.

So, just to be clear—as clear as the springs once were: The same people who have so poorly “managed” the Floridan Aquifer over the last three decades so that its springs are now diminishing are also the same ones who now want to suck water out of the river. And we’re to trust them to do so “sustainably”? Because…. they wear expensive suits and have law and engineering degrees ?

Okay, I’m not blaming just the courtroom suits. The nexus for our loss of groundwater falls on every ethically-challenged developer who wants to sprawl outward into the rolling, karst countryside, and to build out what’s left of our rural landscape.

Some of these guys are so slick that they hire politically-correct planners to design “green communities” that reflect—on the surface—the look of New Urbanism, a dense, mixed-use grouping of buildings where people can live near where they might shop, and so on. New Urbanism is a wonderful idea when taken in context—that is, when used to reshape blighted urban space with infill that makes sense. ( Baldwin Park is likely the best example of this in Orlando since it sits atop what amounts to a trashed Brownfield that used to hold the Naval Training Center.)

But when transported to the rolling countryside, and plopped down atop valuable recharge land, the panacea that is New Urbanism is simply a devious sleight of hand, delivered by glib snake oil salesmen—no different, really, than the great sprawling development failures of the mid-20th century: i.e. Golden Gate Estates in the Big Cypress, et. al.

Most residents of these new cities still have to commute, burning fossil fuel on overburdened roads to do so. The development still destroys valuable natural lands we need to keep our ground and surface water clean and flowing. It’s the same rural land that’s also vital to sustaining wildlife via natural corridors and habitats. In the just-pretend version of New Urbanism, infrastructure—which the state requires to be clustered inside existing cities via its growth management plans—stretches out into the countryside, thanks to exemptions to local comp plans.

underwater at Blue Spring

underwater at Blue Spring

During Bartram’s visit to Florida, we know Salt Springs in the Ocala National Forest was so powerful it actually spouted one to two feet above the surface of the water. And, Blue Spring near Orange City upwelled so magnificently that it was impossible to row a boat into the heart of its springhead.

Yet, neither is true now. And the “bountiful palace of the Sovereign Creator” that Bartram once found here in the folds of the wild Florida landscape faces a jeopardy unlike any before.

Natural enchantment is worth more than any specious argument to the contrary—no matter how well-funded and slickly packaged it is.



  1. The only way to protect “wet” water is to deal in the “paper” water world. To do that you have to be part hydrologist, part lawyer, and 100 percent a good citizen of the watershed. But the battles can be exhausting, and protracted, and often archane … but always worth the effort. Great post.

  2. Thanks, Robert. I surely agree that as much legal and scientific info is needed to defend conservation. And, I also think the ‘100 percent good citizen’ part is the missing link for most.

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