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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Whose thirst comes first? Orlando, Jacksonville areas face water war

Published 12/9/07
Northeast Florida has launched a campaign to prevent thirsty Central Florida from pumping water out of the St. Johns River.

A growing coalition of Jacksonville-area environmentalists and politicians hopes to shield the north-flowing river from proposals to divert as much as 250 million gallons each day to Orlando-area communities.

The St. Johns looks mightier than it is. Though wide as the Mississippi River in places, the river flows so weakly a steady wind will force it to run backward. Near Jacksonville, tides from the Atlantic Ocean fill much of the river. But that blend of fresh and salt water creates an estuary for shrimp, oysters, crabs, clams and countless other species.

The nearly exclusive source of Orlando drinking water -- the deep-underground Floridan Aquifer -- is now being pumped through wells at the rate of about a half-billion gallons a day.

Extracting more, according to the St. Johns River Water Management District, will run the risk of poisoning the subterranean reservoir with seawater and sap spring flows, dry up wetlands and turn lakes into dust bowls. Those predications so unnerve authorities that they vow to halt any new aquifer pumping by 2013.

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