22A ST. PFTERSBURG TIMES U FRIDAY. MAY 20, 1988 O Il
Fair play for public water
When it comes to drinking water, Tampa Bay to be directly above the water. The Legislature has
area residents don't want that much. Urban con- indicated this but never explicitly declared it so.
sumption is far less than that of agricultural and The basis of Conn's decision was the rejection of
industrial users. Residents only want enough water, a Swiftmud rule that wrongly attempted to use
safe water and inexpensive water. In the meantime, property rights as a basis for regulating and pro-
they expect a fair shake from the governmental testing the water resource.
agencies that regulate those processes. But Tues- The so-called 5-3-1 rule said that pumping of
day, a state hearing officer ruled that 1-million water could not reduce the level of water in nearby
Tampa Bay public water users have been discrimi- wells by 5 feet, lower the water table by 3 feet or
nated against by the Southwest Florida Water cause nearby lake and stream levels to drop by 1
Management District, commonly known as Swift- foot. But this is an "arbitrary and capricious" rule,
mud. Conn said, totally unrelated to the protection of the
Hearing officer Donald Conn foimd "inconsis- quality of the water resource.
tent treatment" by Swiftmud in holding public In fact, the 5-3-1 rule was a thinly disguised
drinking water hostage to costly and time-consum- attempt to inflate land prices for large landowners
ing bureaucratic delays while letting rural interests' who might then demand that the authority buy their
use of water go virtually unchecked. property in order to assure itself of adequate water
He said the urban water consumers served by supplies for Tampa Bay area residents. The rule
the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority had never been applied by Swiftmud, but it was
were held to tougher standards than farmers or used by Pasco County rancher Freeman Polk as the
industrial interests. The authority is a compact of basis for a challenge to recent pumping permit
renewals sought by the supply authority. Fearing
That the rule might be applied to the Tampa Bay
Drinking water is a public area's public water users, the authority sought its
resource belonging to all invalidation and won.
Floridians, not to those A Swiftmud attorney says the agency may
whose property happens to appeal. But the Swiftmud board should reconsider.
e roerty ha es to How is the public served by perpetuating costly
| be directly above the water, legal battles between water agencies? Swiftmud
t. doesn't need the rule and never used it. Its only
St. Petersburg and Tampa and the counties of value was as a tactical weapon in a needless
| Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas. regulatory struggle with the supply authority. Ear-
For example, when the authority seeks its lier this month, a state legislative committee sum-
1 pumping permits, Swiftmud asks for costly docu- marily dismissed an attempt to convert the 5-3-1
I mentation, metering, test-well monitoring and oth- rule into state law.
Ser requirements. But these standards are rarely, if It has been two years since the supply authority
ever, applied to agricultural and industrial inter- sought mere renewal of the two pumping permits,
5 ; ests. which were held up first by Swiftmud foot-dragging
Public policy, of course, should not be to relax and then by Polk's objection. They should have been
criteria for public water users but to apply them to granted as a matter of course because of the
Agricultural and industrial users. Conn's finding authority's splendid record of water quality and
that Swiftmud commonly has distinct "variations" environmental preservation.
: in the way it regulates urban and rural users Swiftmud Chairman Michael Zagorac of Clear-
demonstrates why state lawmakers should prohibit water now has an excellent opportunity to lead the
S! such discrimination by statute. Legislation to do regulatory board to higher ground above petty
this could be adopted this month, if Gov. Bob and costly court fights that only drive up the cost of
t 'Martinez expressed his support for it. Martinez, as water to all Tampa Bay area residents.
a former mayor of Tampa, served on the supply The longer that Swiftmud continues to battle in
authority and is familiar with the problem of urban- court, the sooner the Legislature may see how
vs.-rural battles over water. essential it is that non-discriminatory legislation be
Drinking water is a public resource belonging to adopted to force the agency to play fair with the
| all Floridians, not to those whose property happens public's water.