SWFWMD Board Considers Impact of January Freeze
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03/30/10 Tom Baur
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Steven Gambrells pleads his case to SWFWMD


photo by Tom Baur/WMNF

During this January’s hard freeze, farmers sprayed well water onto their plants to protect them from the cold. There’s still controversy over who will pay for damaged wells and roads.

More than 50 people today attended the Southwest Florida Water Management District Board meeting at Hillsborough Community College Plant City campus. Plant City homeowner Steven Gambrells is concerned that the high volume of water pumped from the Florida aquifer caused costly sinkholes that closed lanes of Interstate 4, and left many homeowners’ wells and wallets dry.

Well, I just came here today to see if I could get a thousand-dollar well and pump bill paid for that was incurred during the freeze and the drawn-down aquifer in January, and also just to see what they had to say about what they were going to do in the future about similar incidents.

Gambrell wonders if the strawberry industry should pay directly for damages, and says it ought to find a better way to keep crops warm during a freeze.

Some growers are refusing to pay homeowners for the costs to repair their wells and pumps. SWFWMD manager Dave Rathke says the water management district plans to sue.

There are a number of homeowners out there who have rehabilitated wells but are sitting on invoices that, what we're suggesting at this time is notifying the board, unless you tell us otherwise, we are going to initiate litigation, which is our normal practice, to have the permittees responsible to reimburse these citizens.

One possible compromise is not allowed: Southwest Florida Water Management District is not permitted to pay homeowners directly.

Last year, the water management district mandated stiff conservation measures as the region faced a historic drought. The Hillsborough River had reached all-time lows that threatened Tampa’s drinking water supply, prompting water managers to consider blending reclaimed water to make up for the shortfall. Things are different this year, according to water management staff hydrologist Granville Kinsman.

The Hillsborough River, once again, it's getting very, very high, and you can see the pulse of rain associated, the pulse of flow associated with the rain that we get. The Alafia River is still very, very healthy, and as a result, the public water supply is still very healthy. The reservoir at Hillsborough River is essentially full; the Bill Young Reservoir is full; Peace River, once again, very healthy flows. And here you see the daily flow is above the average for the normal range. And the reservoir system down there is completely full. The new reservoir is full; it has been for the past about four weeks.

Communications Director Michael Molligan says in the coming months, Southwest Florida Water Management District intends to unveil an awareness campaign to educate citizens on the proper use of pesticides that find their way into the local waterways.

And we're considering next year going to a water quality side, and starting talking about appropriate use of fertilizer, because that can really have some impacts on your water bodies when people use fertilizer inappropriately.

For more information on water conservation and proper pesticide use, go to WMNF.org/news.

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