Thursday, October 4, 2007
Who should make decisions as to water supply -– state or local governments? Whose responsibility is it to try to deliver enough water for a growing region? And whose decision is it that land use growth needs to be slowed on account of an insufficient supply of water?
These questions are currently at issue in southern Florida and in many other places where the local supplies of fresh water are no longer adequate to fulfill the needs of a thirsty and burgeoning community. In Broward County, the regional water management district (which issues permits) has in effect halted some new developments until local governments acquire new sources of clean water. The water management district must try to balance many competing demands –- ecological demands to keep more fresh water flowing to the Everglades, local citizens who want more water to keep prices low (and Florida’s water prices are among the nation’s highest), and developers that point out the inevitable rise in demand in popular locations. South Florida currently gets most of its water from the limited supplies in underground aquifers, thirstily eyes the larger water supplies of north Florida, and debates whether to spend millions on the expensive and risky but potentially problem-solving solution of desalination.
Considering these competing demands, it makes sense to me that slow but steady increases in water prices would help spur conservation (especially among large users such as farms and industry) and help ameliorate both the ecological and consumption dilemmas. More troublesome, however, is the likelihood that advocates of “slow growth” policies (which is some circumstances can be characterized as drawbridge protectionism and NIMBY) will use water dilemmas in order to keep out prospective newcomers. Small water supply problems shouldn’t be a mask for decisions on broader policy issues of land use development.