By Pam Meharg, Conservation Chair, Seminole Audubon Society
Water is the elixir of Florida; it brings life to the plants, wildlife, and people that call Florida home. It is the reason why we are surrounded by beautiful ecosystems that support the varied birds and other wildlife that share this magical place with us. But, we are faced with great challenges as we look for ways to provide enough clean water to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population and protect the ecosystems that are supported by our water. While there are many approaches to water conservation, the approach that provides the strongest protection for our water resources is land conservation. This is what voters overwhelmingly approved when they passed the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative (Amendment 1) in 2014.
Forests and wetlands are very effective at moderating the influences of pollution and naturally clean pollutants from water. Land conservation is an investment in the future as it steers growth away from sensitive water resources while providing recreational opportunities. Studies show that spending to protect forests, wetlands, and aquifer recharge areas saves money over time as the need for costly water treatment infrastructure is avoided. As Floridians struggle to fix the many problems plaguing our waterways and look for the billions of dollars needed to fund these fixes, we should remember that conserving Florida’s special places protects our valuable resources at their source.
Fortunately, Florida has the tools to provide protection for critical lands that protect our water resources. Land conservation programs like the Florida Forever Program and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program provide the framework and mechanisms needed to protect these valuable lands. And the Water and Land Conservation Amendment (Amendment 1 in 2014) provides the funding. What are we waiting for?