ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida's freshwater supply is its top problem as it tries to maintain economic and residential growth, Agriculture Commission Adam Putnam said during a discussion Thursday at a leadership summit.
"If you think about the golden eggs that Florida depends on — tourism, agriculture construction — they're all dependent on water," Putnam said as he moderated a panel discussion at the first Sayfie Review Florida Leaders Summit. "This is a critically important issue and they're all inseparable."
But he noted that Florida has also historically made bad choices, such as trying to build a cross-state barge canal, straightening and then unstraightening the Kissimmee River and other water projects.
"There's been some chapters in our history where we didn't exactly get it right, and we need to get it right," he said.
The discussion came during a two-day summit organized by lawyer, lobbyist, GOP fundraiser and news aggregator Justin Sayfie. The meeting included a bi-partisan mix of leaders from state and local government, business groups, education leaders, nonprofit groups, the media and more.
Florida's demand for water is expected to increase by about 1.4 billion gallons a day to 7.9 billion gallons in the year 2030, said Melissa Meeker, former head of the South Florida Water Management District and current vice president of CSA Ocean Sciences, Inc., a global marine environmental consulting firm.
The state needs to find a sustainable water supply if it wants to continue to grow, attract new industries, meet agricultural needs and still protect the environment, Meeker said. While conservation is important, it won't be enough, she said.
"The easy things have been done already," she said.
She advocated for great water reuse, increased water storage and recovery and desalinization and other alternative water sources, saying tapping traditional sources are either too costly or unavailable.
"It's no longer acceptable for us to use water just once and then dispose of it," Meeker said.
She said that some of the 1.7 billion gallons of water that flows into the ocean and Gulf each day must be captured and stored for use.
"We have 1.7 billion gallons of water going to tide. Just lost forever," she said.
Author and journalist Cynthia Barnett, who specializes in water issues, agreed. But she also said Florida can do a much better job conserving water.
She said Florida should decide to use 2 billion less gallons of water per day by 2025 instead of 2 billion gallons more.
"I think it's that dramatic. I think we're that wasteful," she said. "It's possible to live very differently and live well and I think we will. I think we can still cut our water use in half."
The summit also features discussions on education, energy, tourism, transportation and more. Sayfie said he will make it an annual event.
"This is historic. We've never had a gathering like this in the state's history and we're going to build on it going forward each year," Sayfie said, adding that he hopes people will look at long-term issues facing the state. "Change happens so fast, we want to make sure that Florida is taking advantage of that."
Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: http://twitter.com/bsfarrington