Special Reports

If you water, water everywhere, none is left to drink

The water you showered in this morning is the same water Cleopatra dipped her toe into thousands of years ago.

I have treasured that thought countless times, not just in the bathtub or in reaching for a pitcher during long meetings on irrigation, hydration, delivery systems and myriad other subjects, but while standing at the dam when water at high level was released or having a picture taken while walking down into a drying reservoir.

Oh, the mysterious and fickle ways that Mother Nature showers upon us generously yet cruelly, only to disappear before the next surge. Unless we understand that water is a nonrenewable resource, it is difficult to accept that it must be managed carefully.

It is science and art that strikes the delicate balance as we ensure our ability to deliver the single most important immediate human physical need.

Which brings me to another toe-dipping exercise. In the late 20th century, Manatee County issued a "sprinkling ban," bringing forth the greatest number of angry phone calls I ever received as an elected official.

One gentleman complained that the water restriction had created a serious domestic argument.

"Come on out to the house and you'll see."

I felt compelled to make a home visit. Walking to the front door, I sank ankle-deep in water.

"The little woman won't stop watering the lawn."

Obviously, there was a domestic problem in this case, but it serves as a reminder that we cannot afford to waste potable water.

Sound water management requires conservation, recycling, reuse and the highest and best technologies. Demands for safe public drinking water, agricultural benefits and industrial needs cannot be played off against one another.

It was a great day for harassed county officials when the Southwest Florida Water Management District took over regulation of lawn and garden irrigation. Sounds like a small matter, but concern still prevails among our citizens about "why do I have limitations when we share our water with Sarasota?".

First of all, water knows no geographic boundaries. Manatee County has developed a delivery system; built a reservoir and storage system; is constantly exploring new opportunities for storm-water capture; created MARS (Manatee Agriculture Reuse System); purchased watershed land and well fields; and much, much more.

Yes, our "available" water is abundant, and we do supply our municipalities, as well as some water to Sarasota, which in return contributes revenue to the system. Good water management is much like good financial intelligence. You keep your bank account as full as possible against that future "rainy day."

In the case of water, Mother Nature reigns "come rain or come shine," be it flood or drought. Whether it's energy or water, the watchword is conserve! Experts may cringe at some of my generalities, but suffice it to say we have come a long way, especially in taking a regional approach in support of a water-supply authority. Geology, hydrology, geography and psychology are very necessary knowledge connections as rivers and lakes flow right by us and everyone has a straw in the aquifer.

That, like Cleopatra's bath, is a story for another day.

Pat Glass writes every Wednesday.

Pat Glass

Citizen at Large