Water transfer plan may sink under deluge of opposition

Published Nov. 23, 2003|Updated Sept. 2, 2005

The regional showdown over whether local water will be sold to booming parts of Florida is over. The picket signs are packed up. The "Our Water is Not for Sale" T-shirts are in the laundry.

Now the politicians, retirees, environmental activists and business people who turned out Thursday night to state their case are wondering what comes next in the water wars.

State Rep. Nancy Argenziano, the self-described "water lady" who was greeted at the Thursday night meeting like a cult hero, said she hopes she knows what the answer is: nothing.

"I don't know that the Legislature is going to act on this at all," Argenziano said. "It wasn't the Legislature's idea."

On Friday, the day after hundreds of West Central Florida residents drove home bleary-eyed from the late-night meeting in Chiefland, Argenziano theorized that the Council of 100's water resources report could be dead in the water, so to speak, at least temporarily.

The council, a group of business leaders from around the state who advise Gov. Jeb Bush, suggested the state should reconsider its water policy that forces local governments to look within their home areas for water resources. At this point, the report is just that _ a recommendation from a group of private business people with no legislative authority.

Argenziano said she favored ignoring the report, fearing that any other response could only give the group credibility. But now she is pleased that Senate President Jim King acted and set up Senate Natural Resources Committee meetings throughout the state to collect opinions.

It was at the last of those meetings where Citrus residents had their chance to let loose on the council's report. More than 800 people who showed up at Chiefland High School Thursday evening submitted comment cards, indicating they would like to speak.

People packed the school's auditorium, and then the gymnasium. More listened outside, where the hearing was broadcast through loudspeakers.

As the evening waned and buses hired to transport people from other counties revved up their engines to leave, many people scuffled out before their names were called. The crowd thinned.

But those people didn't just go home, Argenziano said. She heard Friday from legislators in other districts, who said their constituents called to say they went to Chiefland, never had the chance to talk and wanted their legislators to hear what they had to say.

"I think they're hearing, even in other areas, that this is a big issue," Argenziano said. "I don't think this issue is going anywhere."

The raucous crowd on Thursday night cheered on their favorite speakers: A 14-year-old boy who described himself as a sixth-generation North Floridian. An elderly woman with a European accent who compared the Council of 100's ideas to tactics used in Nazi Germany. A group of Dunnellon children who kicked off the meeting with a skit about protecting water.

Together, they gave the meeting a rallying cry for people who want to protect rural Florida's water. Danny Stevens, chairman of the Levy County Commission, said Thursday night that it is realistic to portray the water battle as Florida's "Civil War."

"There are people in Williston right now," Stevens said, "getting shotguns and buckshot."

Art Burkhart, of Crystal River, carries his emphatic message outside the Chiefland High School auditorium while waiting in line to attend the Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing on a water transfer plan. "Not one drop, let them plan more desal plants down south," Burkhart said. Of the many people who spoke before the committee, not one person spoke in favor of the proposal, which would send water from north Florida to growing areas in southern and central Florida.