Water agency faces the facts
Urban water consumers won another major ly take such a firm stand against the 5-3-1 rule? It
victory June 28 when the Southwest Florida Water faced facts: The rule was rejected by the Legisla-
Management District, commonly known as Swift- ture, denounced by a state hearing officer and
mud, unanimously decided not to pursue use of an roundly criticized by Tampa Bay governments who
unfair rule. The action affects everything from the make up the water supply authority compact.
quality and price of water at our faucets to the cost Pursuing the rule would have further polarized
of rural acreage and the pace of development in the Swiftmud's relations with the water supply authori-
Tampa Bay region. The so-called 5-3-1 rule could ty, at a time when these two bodies should be
have been used to choke off the flow of water from cooperating, not litigating. Such lawsuits are expen-
rural well fields to urban populations. sive, requiring extensive legal and scientific exper- 4
Swiftmud regulates water pumping in the area. tise.
The rule said that water pumping could not reduce The Swiftmud governing board, led by chairman
the level of water in nearby wells by 5 feet, lower Michael Zagorac of Clearwater, correctly perceived
the water table by 3 feet or cause nearby lake and that it was better not to spend tax money on such
stream levels to drop by 1 foot. The governing flawed rule-making. Now the board can take the
board, after flirting with efforts to put the rule into next step and move quickly to revise all of its rules
effect and even to support its becoming state law, to eliminate discrimination against urban water
decided not to appeal a recent state hearing offi- t
cer's decision that the rule was "arbitrary and users.
capricious." Specifically, it can grant promptly the supply
In point of fact, the 5-3-1 rule had never been authority's simple request for renewal of pumping
used, except as a guideline. It was not based on any permits to Tampa Bay residents. That request has
scientific study that demonstrated it truly protected been bounced around the Swiftmud bureaucracy for
the water resource. It came into play when a Pasco nearly two years. Swiftmud has required the supply
County rancher used it and its rationale as a basis authority to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars -
for objecting to the renewal of drinking water on tests and monitoring data yet Swiftmud
permits for the West Coast Regional Water Supply allows agricultural and industrial users to receive
Authority, which provides water for 1-million Flo- permits routinely without such expensive require-
ridians in the Tampa Bay area. ments.
The authority, in order to defend itself in that The day may yet come hen the Swiftmud
simple permit renewal process, felt it had to seek board helps lead Florida in the establishment of a
the abolition of the rule. If the rule had been allowed simple principle: The water of Florida is a state
to stand or be used in the permitting process by resource, not the private property of those whose
Swiftmud, it would have led to inflated land prices ground happens to be above it. Just as all Floridian'
for large landowners throughout the 16 counties are entitled to access and use of water at beach,
regulated by Swiftmud. so urban residents are entitled to access and use
Why did the Swiftmud governing board sudden- rural drinking water.