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Bill is symbolic but serious, lawmaker says

Published Oct. 4, 2005

State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite says her new water bill will not force big, urban users to come up with alternate water sources, but it will nudge them in that direction.

"It's a step in the right direction. It's incremental, but it sends a message that we're serious," said Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville.

The senator's alternative water supplies bill was signed into law last week by Gov. Lawton Chiles and goes into effect Saturday.

It has two thrusts, she said.

It requires state water management districts to budget money for programs such as desalination. And it gives local governments a variety of powers to force residents and developments to use, for example, treated effluent for irrigation rather than well water.

Brown-Waite admits the law might have little more than a symbolic effect. But some water management districts have lagged in promoting alternative water sources, she said.

The law will force them to devote money to developing other supplies. But one of the laws biggest limitations is that it does not set a minimum amount that the districts must devote to alternate water supplies, she said.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, is one of the leaders in encouraging the use of other sources of water, Brown-Waite said.

Swiftmud, based south of Brooksville, budgeted about $2-million this year to encourage desalination research, spokesman Steve Haag said.

And in 1993, Swiftmud established its New Water Source Initiative, funded at about $30-million annually. Some of the initiative's projects include using stormwater and reclaimed wastewater to refresh groundwater above one of St. Petersburg's well fields.

Brown-Waite's bill, which was sponsored in the state House of Representatives by John Rayson, D-Pompano Beach, gives both counties and cities new rights to demand the use of alternate water supplies.

For example, when a city or county establishes a water district, it can set requirements for developing water sources. And if the districts do not meet those requirements, the county has the power to merge or abolish them.

Local governments also can make the same demands of developers.

But according to Hernando County chief planner Jerry Greif, Hernando has been able to make demands of developers even without the law. Several subdivisions, including Timber Pines, Silverthorn and Glen Lakes, have stipulations in their development agreements that they must use treated wastewater to irrigate golf courses, if it's feasible.

"That's what the key is, feasibility," said Dick Radacky, county utilities department manager.

Before the county can release effluent for such irrigation, its quality must be monitored 24 hours a day.

It will be four or five years, he said, before the county's sewer plants produce enough effluent to justify that expense. So, in the meantime, all the developments are using well water for irrigation.

But, he said, the new law may give the county more bargaining power on water issues.

"Ginny's bill kind of gives us even more strength," he said.