The Tampa Tribune, Friday, December 17, 1993
Group protests water restrictions
Tomato farmers said data
underlying the proposed
rules is flawed.
By NANETTE HOLLAND
Tribune Staff Writer
PALMETTO Proposed water restric-
tions for most of Southwest Florida are
based on "inadequate and scientifically
unacceptable" information, according to a
study released Thursday by an agricultur-
The study was commissioned by the
Committee for Responsible Water Use of
Southwest Florida, a group of tomato
farmers In Hillsborough and Manatee
counties who fear they will be financially
devastated by proposed cutbacks in
The farmers hired groundwater and
statistical experts including the head of
the state board of professional geologists
- to review studies by the Southwest Flor-
ida Water Management District. The dis-
trict's work shows saltwater is creeping in-
land in parts of Hillsborough and Manatee
counties as fast as a foot a day, threaten-
ing the purity of drinking water supplies.
But that conclusion is based on flawed
data, according to the farmer's consul-
tants. Among their criticisms:
Only a handful of wells sampled by
the district showed evidence of increasing
saltiness. Those wells were mostly along
the coast, where saltwater intrusion would
be expected, and not inland where regula-
tions also are being proposed.
Records of water samples from
wells were too sporadic to determine a
trend toward increasing saltiness. In one
case, the consultants said, district scien-
tists identified a well that had been sam-
pled only three times in the past 40 years
as showing a trend toward saltwater con-
Inadequate information exists on ex-
actly how much water is being pumped
from wells in the area. That lack of data
forced the district to estimate water use
for about half of the wells, and the consul-
tants said those estimates are probably in-
"There is no data to indicate that a
widespread or regional problem with sea-
water intrusion exists. Basically, they took
a giant leap of faith from their estimations
to their conclusion," said Tom Missimer, a
consultant with Virogroup Inc. and the
chairman of the state geologists' board.
The district should postpone strength-
ening restrictions because any saltwater
problems that do exist are localized and
do not warrant the drastic cutbacks the
district is mulling, said Bob Spencer, presi-
dent of the agricultural committee.
"We're not seeing the problems that
[the water district] is talking about," Spen-
cer said. "If we did, we'd be the first to
jump in line demanding changes because
we can't grow crops without water."
The agricultural group hopes to per-
suade the district's governing board to
back off pumping restrictions until better
information is gathered.
District Executive Director Peter Hub-
bell said he welcomes the scrutiny but
stands by the district's study.
"We're open to look at their concerns,"
Hubbell said, "but we believe there is a
resource problem there now, and If water
use continues as it has in the past, it will
only get worse."