Reporter

Talking about water may not be sexy, but it’s important – especially for the agriculture industry.

That was one takeaway from keynote speaker Richard Budell, who talked water conservation and availability to state lawmakers and local farmers at last week’s Osceola County Extension Agricultural Legislative Luncheon.

“There’s a saying that’s gained a lot of popularity in Tallahassee,” Budell said. “We’re not going to run out of water – we’re going to run out of cheap water.”

Budell manages his own company, Budell Water Group, that advises public and private sector interests to promote development of water resource protection programs.

As he spoke to a room of ranchers, farmers and politicians, the water expert laid out the three pillars of good water planning.

First, working together is vital.

Budell said water management districts must work collaboratively and plan with utilities, agricultural interests and industrial users to ensure there’s adequate quantities of fresh water to meet current and future needs.

It’s also important to collaborate in order to avoid adverse competition for the state’s most precious resource.  

“Nobody wins when people are fighting over the water,” Budell said.

The last important element is making sure there’s enough water for environmental system, so that things like lakes, wetlands and natural springs aren’t damaged.

The Central Florida Water Initiative was formed to address these issues as the region continues to grow.

Because as Central Florida’s population booms, the demand for water grows with it, Budell said.

This may have a tremendous impact on agriculture, which requires ample amounts of water for irrigation and raising livestock.

Agricultural acreage will shrink as the demand for land to build homes increases, leaving farmers and ranchers with tough decisions, Budell said.

“Just because your total acreage goes down doesn’t mean your water needs will go down,” he said.

For decades, the agriculture industry and residents alike have enjoyed cheap, accessible Florida ground water.

But those days are quickly coming to an end, experts say.

That’s hard on the agriculture industry because farmers and ranchers don’t have the luxury of exploring other water sources, the way big utility companies do.

Drilling further down into the earth, extracting brackish water and treating it is expensive, but utility companies can pass those costs off to rate payers – which is not an option for farmers.

“The ag industry is really limited in the access to water it needs,” Budell said. “Not that you’ll need a lot more – you just don’t want to get squeezed by other groups because they want the cheap water.”

Budell said water management districts are aware of the strain limited ground water access may have on agriculture in the future, but that it’s still important for farmers and ranchers to stay informed about legislative bills at the statehouse moving forward.

The Osceola County Extension Legislative Luncheon is an annual gathering of local stakeholders and political figures sponsored by the Cattlemen’s Association, Farm Bureau, and Silver Spurs Rodeo.

It gives the groups and its members a chance to discuss challenges and bills before state lawmakers head to Tallahassee in March.