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Meeting is first step for water watchdogs

The county's Groundwater Guardian Team gathered Friday morning for the first time.

The group, about a dozen people from diverse walks of life, is taking the initial steps toward seeking Groundwater Guardian Community status for Hernando County.

What that means, besides the opportunity to post special signs along local roads, is that a governmental body is coordinating its efforts to conserve and protect groundwater resources.

"I wish we'd had this group 10 years ago," interim County Administrator Dick Radacky said. "Hernando County's water has been targeted by communities to the south, and I don't think that'll ever go away. Having a committee like this, we can protect our resources."

Florida already has four Groundwater Guardian Communities: Melbourne, Pinellas and Citrus counties and Hurlburt

Field in the Panhandle.

Jan McLean, the county's water conservation coordinator in the Utilities Department, helped form the Groundwater Guardian Team. The team is affiliated with the national Groundwater Foundation in Nebraska. By Aug. 31, the group hopes to identify a series of achieveable projects that would help Hernando County qualify for Groundwater Guardian Community status.

"We don't want to be a flash in the pan," McLean said. "To accomplish something, we have to commit to it long term. We need to identify what's important to us."

One possible project for the team to consider supporting: the Springs Coast Environmental Education Center planned along the Weeki Wachee River. The group watched a video from the Hernando County School District pitching the project.

But the team didn't take any specific action on that Friday. Instead, members want to spend the next few meetings gathering information from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, local utility services and other sources to determine the team's priorities.

"I don't want to take the easy route," said rancher Tommy Bronson. "I don't want to wake up two years from now and feel like we could have done something more."

Jim Wells, a manager from IGM at World Woods golf course, hopes the team can help shift perceptions that recreational users like World Woods are just out to guzzle water to keep fairways green for rich golfers.

"Our industry takes a black eye a lot of the time," Wells said. "But there's a lot of research being done nationwide about efficient water use. We're in this to make money, and that means we can't use water like it's going to be here forever."

The team will meet next on April 12.

_ To learn more about the Groundwater Foundation, visit www.groundwaterguardian.org.

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