Everglades National Park (Pic by Rodney Cammauf, National Park Service; via army.mil)

The Everglades Water Supply Summit kicked off in Tallahassee today with a panel that included West Palm Beach City Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell, state Rep. Will Weatherford, Florida Power & Light VP Mike Sole, South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Melissa Meeker and golf course designer Jack Nicklaus. They spoke about the need for better policy, restoration efforts and the importance of not pointing the finger at any one particular industry when it comes to pollution in the area. Below, some of the highlights.

On the industry’s need for water:

Nicklaus, who called golf a$ 7.5 billion industry in Florida, said that “years ago, we weren’t paying much attention to water. … Water was available; it was never an issue.” But now, the issue of water supply has come front and center. “You cannot do a golf course without water,” Nicklaus said, adding that the first question asked by golf course designers is: How much water is available?

Irrigating golf courses with saltwater or recycled/effluent water, has become increasingly popular — but according to Meeker, only about 30 percent of golf courses currently use it.

“The more effluent water we get, the better we are. It puts it back into the system,” Nicklaus said.

On over-development:

“I think Miami-Dade has already gone far enough,” Mitchell said. “[We need to] learn from the South and learn not to aggressively pursue building out into the Everglades.”

For Weatherford, development boils down to “finding a balance between private property rights and protecting natural resources.” The rep. touted the importance of ”empowering local governments” to make decisions about development while remaining “cognizant of the fact that resources are finite.”

On privatizing the water supply:

Meeker defended a controversial bill that aims to give utilities more power over reclaimed water, arguing that “the proposed legislation that people are calling ‘privatization’ is not privatization.”

“Creating an incentive is a positive thing,” Meeker said. Moderator Chuck Todd interjected that such bills would “create a market for [reclaimed water], essentially.”

FPL’s Mike Sole, whose company would be directly affected by the bill, said that “Florida has done a good job of balancing the needs of water users and protecting natural resources.”

On pointing the finger at agriculture:

“We have to co-exist. … The question is, of the parts per million that we’re worried about, where is it really coming from?” said Weatherford. “To me, it doesn’t make sense to blame one industry. … [Sugar] has as much to lose as anybody.”

Meeker agreed, saying, “All of us are part of the problem, but also part of the solution. I can’t accomplish what this crowd wants me to accomplish without the industry as a partner.”

On Gov. Rick Scott’s budget:

Weatherford applauded Scott’s recent budget proposal, which included $40 million for Everglades preservation.

“I got to give him credit,” he said. “We can’t just look to the federal government and expect them to bail us out. That piggy bank is probably going to run dry someday soon.”

Mitchell spoke of the importance of private sector investment in the Everglades. “Is there a role for the private sector to step up and help us? I think we’ve tried everything else already. … Getting water is going to cost us more and we have to accept it.”

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