In recent years, Gov. Jeb Bush approved new measures that began to connect water supply and land development for the first time, providing a jot of hope to Floridians exhausted by the unabsorbed costs of growth.
Linkages, like the requirement for local planning to contain urban development within growth boundaries, are planned throughout the state. It is about time.
Still, people can be excused for doubting the new direction will be more than a repackaging of the old.
Forever in Florida, local government has pointed in the opposite direction: building and construction insulated from criticism by a patchwork of regulations nominally protecting the environment and quality of life. No mystery why.
Whether Democrat or Republican, elected officials grazed in the fields of campaign contributions by day and wore the same path to the barn each night, without prejudice to political affiliation.
So credit Jeb Bush for doing the unexpected and, indeed, unprecedented last week. His administration, in effect, ticketed county commissioners in Florida’s largest county, Miami-Dade, for speeding merrily along the way to taking however much water they wanted from the Everglades, for whatever purpose they wanted.
The news was delivered by Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Colleen Castille and water chief Carol Ann Wehle in closed meetings with county commissioners:
Don’t count on additional water from the Biscayne aquifer to fuel your growth.
That Bush — their guy — had lowered the boom was greeted with glum faces and funereal sadness at Miami-Dade County Hall.
Weeks earlier, the county commission transmitted to Tallahassee nearly one dozen applications to break through the county’s urban growth boundary. Outside the boundary, land values are sizzling in anticipation of zoning changes.
County commissioners relished the battle with citizens opposing movement of the urban-growth boundary, dishing derision from the dais and bright ideas like appropriating new taxpayer money to counter “misinformation” by taxpayers with its own paid media.
Joe Martinez, the county chairman, was feeling so expansive that he recently extracted the single county commissioner who had aligned herself with the citizens’ movement, Katy Sorenson, from her position on the regional planning council.
Bush needn’t have wondered what the heck is going on in Miami-Dade County. He is from Miami-Dade.
For Florida’s conservation community, the scarcity of water is not news. For ordinary people who have witnessed the steady, gradual erosion of Florida’s pristine streams and rivers, the grief is palpable from one coast to the other.
For Americans who treasure the Everglades, the battle to secure clean water at the right time of year is a quest that entwines every hope to protect the global environment. Why?
Because the Everglades is where the richest nation on Earth has pointed all its governmental resources to reclaim a damaged ecosystem. That’s the theory.
What Bush thinks about the global environment is a mystery.
What is not is that the governor wants to leave a legacy that puts the state firmly in charge of Everglades restoration.
He can’t do that if local counties ignore the need to manage scarce freshwater resources. And he can’t persuade the Bush White House to back off when the largest county in Florida is acting as though the new direction in managing water supply and land development is something that applies to other people.
More can disappear in drained aquifers, sinkholes and polluted estuaries than the value of homes and their foundations: These can make elected officials disappear, too.
Today, Miami-Dade County commissioners are behaving like busy bees, putting on the lipstick, loving the manatee for a change, and assembling a “plan” for water re-use so that, hope against hope, applications to move the urban-growth boundary will be blessed by the state in a few weeks.
The county’s plan involves drawing “new” water from the Floridan, a brackish, water-bearing layer. Even deeper, in the Boulder Zone, the state has allowed the county to dump for 20 years an oceanic volume of fouled municipal wastewater that is now leaking upward.
So Miami-Dade’s wastewater is leaking into the Floridan, the same layer where county commissioners intend to draw its new source of drinking water.
Oh, well. You don’t have to drive to Miami to know the world isn’t perfect.
For the time, environmentalists in Miami-Dade County feel like Bush just belted a home run straight into their section of the bleachers. Nosebleed seats or not, never forget to bring your glove to the game.
And from Tallahassee, Bush can see them tipping their caps for a change.