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A full-time regional water authority would benefit Hernando

Think of it as shoring up a levee to control or redirect the flow of water, and you should get a better idea of the practical reasons to expand the operations of the Withlacoochee River Water Supply Authority.

On Tuesday the Hernando County Commission is scheduled to discuss a proposal to make the Water Authority's contracted executive director, Jack Sullivan, a full-time employee, and to hire up to two people to assist him. Along with Hernando, other members of the authority also are weighing the proposal; they include Citrus and Sumter counties and the incorporated cities in those counties, as well as the city of Ocala.

The concept is sound. The governments represented in this group need to work more cohesively to protect and distribute limited water resources. It is necessary to view the water supply, as well as the projects that will consume that supply, from a regional perspective. That sensible approach is in place, albeit in varying degrees, in every other area of the Southwest Florida Water Management District's 16-county region.

The Water Management District has encouraged the creation of regional water authorities in philosophy and with cash. This proposal is no different: Swiftmud, as the district is commonly known, is prepared to contribute $400,000 a year for the next five years to help the Withlacoochee Water Authority make the transition from a part-time to full-time staff.

If expanded, the Water Authority should be in a better position to fend off "water grabs" from other neighboring areas, such as the one briefly considered by the St. John's Water Management District last year that would have tapped the Withlacoochee River and possibly Lake Rousseau in Citrus County.

Of all the members of the Water Authority, Hernando County may have the most to gain from the alliance. Hernando has no viable water supplies and one day, when groundwater supplies are no longer adequate, probably will have to look north for help.

In that vein, it also should be easier for an adequately staffed regional Water Authority to monitor, and if necessary intercede, if the governing body of a member county was about to approve a project for which there was inadequate long-term supply.

And building up those supplies should be the overarching goal of the regional Water Authority, whether through desalination, well fields or other groundwater sources.

The member governments, including the Hernando County Commission and the city of Brooksville, should support making this transition from a loosely knit coalition to a steady force that can act with a unified, authoritative voice to adopt mutual goals and solutions. It may be possible to postpone the decision for a year or two, and it also is possible that others besides Sullivan should be interviewed for the executive director's job. Those are details that need to be worked out.

But as this part of Florida begins to grow as other areas of the state have, the need to move toward a larger regional presence is inevitable and advisable.

A full-time regional water authority would benefit Hernando 03/15/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 4:49pm]
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