Posted by: floridanature | October 16, 2008

Less is More: Watching Our Water Ebb Away

I drive downstream on US 17.92 again this morning. But unlike last weekend— when I was actually headed for the river—today, I was headed for a legal hearing about the river. Huge difference: A few hours on the St. Johns yields infinite rewards, each carefully wrapped in a vision of a singular natural place. A legal hearing about it can rip logic into tiny shreds. And the visions? Unless they are inspired by Machiavelli, forget about them.

This is the final days of the legal suit filed by the St. Johns RiverKeeper (with Jacksonville and their nearby county) against the regional water management district and Seminole, the county where I live. It’s all about water squandering—and allowing water hogs to continue use as much as they want. Problem is, this bovine mentality is draining our aquifer, and in five years, the “District” will allow no more large groundwater permits.

The solution? Strictly enforced conservation ? A determination of the real value of water—with a related surtax on those who squander more than the rest? Or maybe a calculated slow-down in building until we can get a handle on our disappearing resource ?

Nope, folks. The solution is to allow business as usual. Except now, new water will come not from our mysterious creeks that flow through the soft karst conduits under us. It will come from the nation’s most historic river—one of only l4 in the country to be named as an ‘American Heritage River’. The waterway illustrated first by LeMoyne, then later by W.M. Hunt and Winslow Homer. The river that inspired Delius to write his most beloved orchestration. The liquid god that was once the Timucua’s sacred “River of the Sun.”

A 19th century river vision by Winslow Homer

A 19th century river vision by Winslow Homer

An environmental expert from the City of Jacksonville was on the stand this morning when I walked in. The venue was a modest auditorium with folding tables and chairs with a tiny stage up front. Flanking the judge and the “witness stand” were two large plastic plants that were trying to be ferns, and one very sad American flag.

The expert, who supported the RiverKeeper’s perspective,  said the District’s very own “Florida Water Star” program—which they heavily promote on their website—clearly states that if all new homes were built with water efficient technology, they would not only save the homeowners money—they would conserve enormous amounts of water. What a concept! In fact, they would save so much that the removal of 5.5 mgd from the St. Johns as planned by the county to make up for the groundwater deficit wouldn’t even have to happen.

Seems reasonable. Especially since the District played the program so big, touting it as one of the reasons that they really, really cared about our water. A prominent headline on the site even bragged: “Taking the Lead in Water Conservation.” The county attorney, natch, tore the argument apart, insisting it was only “theoretical”—a hopeful dream— and thus, could not be applied to real life. It was another perfect Orwellian moment, where people with way too much money turn truth on its head, just because they think they can.

How about a reality check, right here in Seminole County ? A couple years ago, I had the rare misfortune to sit in on a public ceremony where a Young Republican-supported developer was wedged onto the Seminole Soil & Water Conservation Board, due to massive funding for his very first campaign. No conservation credentials, and apparently, very little regard for his fellow non-Republican humans. The developer, Chris Dorworth, was full of bluster, and during his first meeting he said he was a believer in “less is more.” He actually said that. Not long after that, Dorworth—after ignoring his duties as chair of the SSWCD, ran for a state house seat and won, although only barely. After he left, the SSWCD shut down its office because its new “leaders” did little to sustain it.

Not too long ago, the Orlando Sentinel reported Dorworth— the poster boy for conspicuous consumption—was among the greatest water hogs in all of Seminole, averaging up to 89,000 gallons a month. (Dorworth blew it off, blaming it on faulty irrigation, somehow broken by the city utility workers.) Just for the record, an average homeowner uses about 150-170 gallons a day—or 4,500 to 5,100 gallons monthly.

Yep, less is more. And in a fair world, mindless users of our commonly-shared potable water from the Floridan Aquifer might take a lesson from that.

I thought of this weirdness when I drove away from the modest little auditorium where the hearing was held, past the Seminole County Historical Museum, where county budget cuts had laid off the long-time director and the entire staff—not far from the Seminole County Environmental Studies Center where the county also tried to scuttle their $1 million budget because of shortfalls. (Indeed, some 72 county workers were downsized without any warning because of this recent crunch.) Yet, Seminole County is now spending over $2 million in taxpayers’ money—my money and your money—to use the best Orwellian spin money can buy to absolve themselves and their developer buddies of responsibility for their inability to conserve. Less is more. Right up to the point where it isn’t.

Within this “might is right” perspective, away goes the liquid—and all that it has touched for centuries in the watershed of the venerable St. Johns River.

I had hoped the media would have been there to more fully report this story. But their new corporate bosses— over extended with leveraged buy-outs and obsessed with short-term quarterly profits— have laid off some of the best and brightest of their staffs. Gotta tighten the belt, you know. Cuz after all, less is more.



  1. That’s a sad and convoluted tale. The St Johns is a national treasure, not to mention Florida’s most historic flow way.

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