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Dewitt: As the Villages grows, let's be wise in how we meet water demand

The Villages isn't really a village, or even a series of villages, but a monster retirement community spanning parts of three counties.

And considering that its population is due to grow from about 82,000 to 105,000 in the next decade, sharing its general water supply could be like splitting a pizza with a growing teenager: Hesitate, and your slice is gone.

That's one reason we should pay attention to a meeting of an agency that most of us always ignore, the Withlacoochee Regional Water Supply Authority.

Members from Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and Marion counties will gather at Southwest Florida Water Management District headquarters at 4:30 p.m. today to talk about the authority's long-range, $750,000 plan for finding new sources of water.

Working together on this makes sense of course. But Hernando's water use is expected to climb only 23 percent in the next 20 years, the report says. That's far lower than for any of the other counties in the authority, especially Sumter, where most of the Villages is located and where water use is expected to increase 81 percent by 2030.

So, are we going to end up donating our water to the cause of regional growth? Or, put another way, will these other counties grab our share?

My job as a columnist would be easier if the answer to these questions were yes. Our lives as residents should be better because, for the most part, the answer seems to be no.

The first priority should be conservation, the report says. If the people in just Sumter, Hernando and Lake could cut their use to the very reasonable daily average of 150 gallons per person, for example, it could save as much as 15 million gallons per day. That's water the authority won't have to take from another source.

Next on the list is tapping the aquifer in northern Sumter. Seems fair enough, given the expected rate of growth there. This could be done without drying up nearby wells or lakes, the report says. That's also true of the other groundwater projects, none of which, thankfully, are planned for Hernando.

What's next on the list? A total of four plans that call for taking water from the Withlacoochee River. I don't like the idea of pumping even a drop from the river because parts of it are more prone than ever to going bone dry.

Fortunately, the authors of the report don't like the idea of tapping the river much either. They grade all four of the plans below the groundwater projects. That means the authority probably won't get around to pumping river water during the next 20 years but should start making plans to do so, executive director Jack Sullivan said.

And the project closest to Hernando, one that calls for skimming floodwaters from the river in Trilby to restore nearby groundwater supplies, is the least feasible of all.

That kind of project is called an alternative source, and, to be fair, I should point out that the Villages gets a lot of its water this way — watering its golf courses with treated wastewater and storm water runoff, for example.

Not that all of this is completely harmless. Every gallon of storm water used for irrigation is a gallon less available for recharging the aquifer. That's the way water tends to work: Every drop we use could be someone else's or someplace else's share.

Dewitt: As the Villages grows, let's be wise in how we meet water demand 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 8:30pm]
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