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Rep. McBurney asks Duval lawmakers to denounce water supply plan, St. Johns River withdrawals

The Jacksonville Republican wants lawmakers, who will meet Thursday at Jacksonville City Hall, to vote then on a resolution he drafted that argues against withdrawing water from the river to supplement water supplies in Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and southern Lake counties.

“The St. Johns River is the heart of our city. … We must protect and defend that connection, our river, our most precious ecological resource,” McBurney said Tuesday in a release about the resolution. “Taking water from our river to other parts of the state places our river at risk.”

McBurney’s resolution says environmental effects of river withdrawals aren’t fully understood by anyone, including the St. Johns River Water Management District, which worked with South Florida and Southwest Florida districts to create a water plan for the fast-growing counties around Orlando.

The St. Johns district hasn’t done everything it could to save water through conservation, which would shrink the need for more water, the resolution says, adding that withdrawals would help increase the river’s salinity.

Joanne Chamberlain, St. Johns district leader on the Central Florida initiative, said more conservation and use of reclaimed water, which is recycled from wastewater plants, were “key components” to water supply that would be considered before deciding on river withdrawals.

Chamberlain said the district is pursuing a change in state building codes that would require new development to meet stronger conservation standards.

She said the district also has budgeted more for conservation efforts, and is scheduled this fall to start a $2 million cost-sharing program to help utilities manage some expenses involved in increasing conservation.

Backers of the Central Florida initiative say that area will need a reliable new water source fast to avoid jarring impacts on both communities and ecosystems. Central Florida is projected to need another 300 million gallons of water per day by 2035, but water managers say only about 50 million gallons more can be pulled from the ground there.

The Central Florida plan was developed after years of talk between scientists and managers from the three water districts that each control part of that region. If they hadn’t cooperated, officials worried that one district or another would end up pumping too much from the ground and damaging water supplies for the others.

McBurney’s resolution follows Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s example last month in coming out against river withdrawals, which have long been fought by the St. Johns Riverkeeper organization.