McCollum Vows to Take on Water Management Crisis

By: Lane Wright | Posted: June 5, 2010 12:09 AM
Bill McCollum at 2010 Water Forum

Attorney General Bill McCollum addresses audience at 2010 Water Forum in Orlando. Credit: Lane Wright, Sunshine State News

Attorney General Bill McCollum told some 500 business leaders and water experts in Orlando Friday that he has a specific plan -- in fact, a two-pronged policy initative -- for keeping groundwater flowing in Florida.

McCollum, a Republican candidate for governor, said that as the state's chief executive, he will sign an order creating a Florida Water Strategy and Action Commission.

"We're not going to sit around and talk about (water solutions) for a number of years," he said. "This is going to be an action group."

The second leg of his water policy, he said, is to find funding for alternative water sources -- desalination, for example, among other cutting-edge technology.

"We're going to develop it here, encourage it here and use it here," he said.

McCollum, speaking to the 2010 Water Forum sponsored by the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) and the American Water Works Association, was addressing the real concerns of the state's populous zones that available sources of drinking water are drying up.

According to the Florida Water Alliance, Tampa Bay, southeast Florida and the greater Orlando area "have effectively run out of available groundwater." The three largest water management districts have determined that increased pumping in these regions will result in "unacceptable environmental impacts, such as drawdowns of wetlands and lakes, reduced flows to springs and rivers, and increased risk of saltwater contamination into fresh groundwater resources."

Forum sponsors had hoped all gubernatorial and commissioner of agriculture candidates would show up to explain their plans for solving Florida's water problems. But gubernatorial hopefuls Alex Sink, Jeff Greene, Rick Scott and Bud Chiles told event organizers they couldn't make it because of scheduling conflicts.

The absence of any competition allowed McCollum to take center stage on water issues without having to worry about punches and counter-punches on an issue critical to Florida's future.

Currently the cost of developing alternative water supplies is expensive, and creating the technology necessary to bring that cost down could take years. But McCollum says Florida doesn't need to wait for these solutions to be fully developed to make a difference.

"We don't have to solve all our water issues to attract businesses," he said. "All we have to do is get a road map."

Though each district has its own problems, McCollum pointed to the South Florida Water Management District, explaining that it necessarily expends a majority of its energy and focus on Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

With costs of solving some of the water management issues already high, Sunshine State News asked McCollum if he supported the South Florida Water Management District's expected proposal to raise property taxes to pay for the U.S. Sugar land acquisition deal.

"The governor is in charge of making appointments as you just said," McCollum replied, "and so consequently the governor is going to influence the outcome of whether taxes are raised or not raised. And I'm not in favor, generally, of raising taxes. That's not something I support."

Though she was not at the forum, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink has also come out against the costly U.S. Sugar deal, calling it "ridiculous" during an earlier meeting with the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

The state's five water management districts often have different rules and policies to address similar water management problems. After his speech, McCollum was asked how he would address the issue.

He responded by saying he would not likely change the boundaries of the districts, but that some changes would have to be made to narrow their focus and allow them to interact more smoothly in meeting their responsibilities, for example, to agricultural businesses.

Reach Lane Wright at lwright@sunshinestatenews.com, or at (561) 398-1576.


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