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I attended a presentation at a local workshop with the St. Johns River Water Management District and the St. Johns Riverkeeper tonight. 

There’s a plan by several central Florida cities to withdraw up to 262 million gallons of water per day from the St. Johns River and the Oklawaha for drinking water supply.  Seems this area will exceed the capacity of the aquifer before the next 20 years–not surprising given the extreme growth rate in the area.  The Water Management District is running models, looking at data and researching the downstream effect.  According to the St. Johns River Water Management District, preliminary research indicates this withdrawal would have a minimal effect on the downstream portions of the river.

The Riverkeeper disputed this early conclusion, raising concerns about the effect on salinity in the estuary, impacts on the nitrogen and pollutant concentrations.  While the SJRWMD said no decisions have been made and any permitting will be at least two years in the future, several cities have begun engineering on the surface water treatment plants. 

Several cities in north Florida have already passed resolutions objecting to the use of the St. Johns River to provide water for excessive growth in the Orlando area.  Central Florida, on the other hand, is blasting north Florida for their lack of using reclaimed water and failure to implement strong conservation rules. 

Who’s right?  And what is real effect would occur from removing 262 million gallons a day from the St. Johns? 

These are big questions–and the problem is not just here in north-central Florida but all around the country.

I got a survey at work recently from an engineer with the American Society of Civil Engineers collecting data for the latest Infrastructure Report Card.  You can find more information about the report card at www.asce.org/reportcard/2005/index.cfm

In the 2005 report card, both drinking water and wastewater received a D-.  America’s overall infrastructure grade was a D.  That includes not only water and sewer, but roads, bridges, dams, navigable waterways, schools, aviation, rail, energy, solid waste, hazardous waste, parks, and security.  All items critical to our way of life, and taken for granted until the worst happens, like the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis.  Or the steam-pipe explosion in New York.

I’m hoping the latest report card will show improvement–but really, I’ll be surprised if it does. 

Federal and state grant monies are almost nonexistent, which leaves cities to pick up the cost of infrastructure repairs.  In the water and wastewater world  that means raising rates–and nobody likes that.  Not even me, and I know how important it is to keep pumps running and replace old water lines. 

Unfortunately, infrastructure is expensive.  And fixing old or broken infrastructure is even more costly than putting in new stuff.  Construction costs continue to soar.  And the public is getting tired of having their bills get higher every day.  So the chance of bringing our D- up to even a C is remote.

The fallen I-35W bridge is truly a tragedy that could have been avoided.  The only good thing to come out of such a sad event is that it shows how very important it is to take care of our critical infrastructure.

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