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Regional water official says Marion must address future supply

Marion County must ratchet up its conservation efforts and turn to alternative water-supply sources sooner, rather than later, as traditional groundwater sources are drying up.

But putting that system in place, and thus preserving those resources, will not be an overnight venture, nor will it be cheap.

That assessment was offered Tuesday by Jack Sullivan, executive director of the Withlacoochee River Water Supply Authority.

Sullivan appeared before the County Commission as part of a tour of the local governments covered by the authority, which has reached a "fork in the road" in developing strategies to meet long-range water needs.

His overview emphasized the need for coordinated action regionally, the necessity of planning over crisis management, and the importance of an integrated approach that includes use of surface and desalinated waters.

Sullivan's presentation did not necessarily break new ground. Commissioners, even through their own water-supply planning, have been previously advised that groundwater alone cannot sustain the county's future water needs and that conservation is critical to stretching the supply.

Sullivan, however, told them that alternative sources - points along the Withlacoochee River and sea water drawn from a site near Crystal River - will have to be tapped sooner than expected.

There are, Sullivan said of the water supply, "places in this region where we cannot sustain it on groundwater."

One reason for the urgency was the divergence in thinking between the two water management districts that regulate water use in Marion County.

Sullivan noted that the St. Johns River Water Management District has taken a more conservative view and has announced that it will significantly curtail future demand for groundwater.

The St. Johns district governs water usage in Marion County east of Interstate 75.


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West of I-75, state water regulators from the Southwest Florida Water Management District indicate there is "significant" groundwater remaining, Sullivan said.

In fact, although groundwater sources in rapidly growing western Hernando County are drying up, Sullivan said the authority is analyzing developing groundwater wellfield projects in Citrus and northern Sumter counties.

Sullivan said it was "unfair" for Marion County to deal with two disparate opinions on water supplies, and suggested a "hybrid" model might have to be developed to guide the county in pursuing its water plan.

Commissioners took no action on Sullivan's presentation, other than to agree to conduct a workshop on his recommendations. That will be scheduled for some time in late May or early June.


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