The sweeping new water policy that passed in the Florida legislature and was signed by the governor is expected to have a big impact on Floridians, now and in the future. The discussion about this precious natural resource brings attention to a critical need to address Florida’s water supply in each region of our state.
How Florida manages its water — quality and quantity — is one of the most important issues facing the state, as the economy continues to strengthen and Florida resumes its prerecession population growth. Providing enough water is a critical issue.
Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that Florida’s population surpassed the 20 million mark. We are now adding 1,000 people a day to our population, which is an even faster pace than the year before. Only Texas is growing faster than the Sunshine State.
This accelerating population growth makes water supply an ongoing and ever complicated challenge. Working together, we will find ways to meet this growing demand while preserving the unique environment and natural resources that make Florida special.
According to state estimates, Florida may need an additional 1 billion gallons of water per day. And although we don’t face some of the drought and water quality issues making the news in other parts of the country today, the question of how to address the challenge of meeting water demands goes beyond the water managers. It requires strong working partnerships between political, business and policy leaders as well as citizens. We need to focus our attention, time and resources on ensuring sufficient water supply through efficient water use and new sources of supply.
In the Tampa Bay area, our leaders recognized years ago that a regional approach to water was the solution to our water supply challenges. The result was a cooperative strategy that created Tampa Bay Water, a regional drinking water agency that serves more than 2.4 million people in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, including the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Tampa Bay Water serves as a model for regional water supply. Established as a solution to the “water wars” of previous decades, Tampa Bay Water has built more than $1 billion in infrastructure, designed to provide a reliable and sustainable supply of drinking water to the region. We take good care of these infrastructure assets to ensure their maximum longevity.
And although our infrastructure is expected to last many years, we also have a long-term master water plan that helps us to look ahead to future needs so that we can make decisions now about how to maintain a reliable water supply for future generations.
Now, as we plan for this population growth, we must ensure this continual planning process maintains a strong working partnership with local elected officials, regulatory agencies and all our stakeholders. We need to focus on developing new ways to use water more efficiently and identifying new sources of water for the region and the state.
Matt Jordan is the general manager of Tampa Bay Water.