Agreement launches cooperative plan to ensure Central Florida water supplies

An agreement approved today by the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board settles a legal challenge to the District's decision to deny requests by Orange County and the City of St. Cloud to draw water from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. The agreement provides $500,000 from the SFWMD specifically for Central Florida to identify and develop new water supplies for the region. The goal is to reduce reliance by residents and businesses on the traditional but limited water source...

• Water managers, St. Cloud, Orange County commissioners resolve legal challenge

ORLANDO, FL, Sept. 11, 2008 -- An agreement approved today by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board settles a legal challenge to the District's decision to deny requests by Orange County and the City of St. Cloud to draw water from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.

The agreement provides $500,000 from the SFWMD specifically for Central Florida to identify and develop new water supplies for the region. The goal is to reduce reliance by residents and businesses on the traditional but limited water source: the Floridan aquifer.

"I want to recognize Orange County and the City of St. Cloud for their willingness to sit down with the District, address our mutual concerns and come to an agreement that is truly in the best interest of our shared constituency," said Jerry Montgomery, who represents Central Florida on the SFWMD Governing Board. "Together we are seeking viable solutions for meeting the long-term water supply needs of our communities."

The St. Cloud City Commission approved the agreement at its Sept. 11 meeting. The Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved the agreement at an August meeting.

"The water supply future of Central Florida poses many challenges," SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle said. "As with any challenge, problems are more easily and effectively solved when people and communities work together. With this agreement we have renewed the cooperative spirit needed to get this work done for our residents."

The agreement does not authorize any water to be drawn from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, but it leaves open the possibility of tapping the Kissimmee River for water supply in the future.

The agreement also calls for a scientific investigation into the water availability of the Kissimmee Basin's lakes and river. That study will seek to establish the amount of water needed to maintain the basin's environmental health, which is the focus of a $600-million state and federal partnership to restore the Kissimmee River. When that amount of water is determined, the study will also identify where and how much of the Kissimmee Basin's water is available to meet water supply needs.

"This agreement provides constructive and vital steps to ensure future water supplies for Central Florida," said Chip Merriam, SFWMD Deputy Executive Director for Water Resources Management. "I want to recognize Commissioner Bill Segal's leadership in finding common ground on a difficult issue, helping to protect the region's water resources while meeting the needs of the citizens he serves."

To date, SFWMD has purchased more than 105,000 acres for Kissimmee River restoration at a cost of more than $300 million. In construction work, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has backfilled about 10 miles of the C-38 canal, restoring flow to 19 miles of the historic Kissimmee River.

With a partially restored river and its greatly expanded floodplain, several species of plants and animals, such as the Ring-necked Duck, American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt, have returned to the Kissimmee after being absent for more than 40 years.

When the restoration is complete in 2012, more than 40 square miles of river/floodplain ecosystem will be restored, including 43 miles of meandering river channel and 27,000 acres of wetlands.

The South Florida Water Management District is a regional, governmental agency that oversees the water resources in the southern half of the state -- 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys. It is the oldest and largest of the state's five water management districts.

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