Quick link: take the challenge here.
Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts is never far from water. He lives almost on water: his F-Section home’s backyard laps at a canal. For 15 years he’s worked for a tug boat towing service in addition to his duties on the council, and still does. He serves on the Florida Inland Navigation District, one of the lesser known local taxing authorities. Summers, he grew up at lakeside in Maine, learning to swim at age 4. The furthest he gets from water, it seems is when he sits through the weekly meetings of the Palm Coast City Council, a nearby carafe of water notwithstanding.
“Water,” he says, “is life.”
It’s also the most precious resource on the planet, and a limited resource. Counterintuitive as that sounds in a state a few inches above the water table, Florida—and Palm Coast—will, at some point in the future, run out of water to supply mounting consumption. It’s basic math. “Are we going to run out of water this week, next week? No,” the mayor says. “This year, next year? No. But it is a limited resource.”
Two things will stave off that day of reckoning: significantly more conservation, and the development of alternative water supplies. Right now, conservation is the priority.
So Netts is leading a challenge. He’s joined mayors across the country to encourage residents to commit to saving water, and maybe win a free car, water-saving appliances and other prizes along the way.
The prize incentive is a bit hoaky: conservation is its own reward, especially when communities’ good health and sustainability depends on it. But there’s only so many ways to get people to participate in a challenge like this, and prizes, which include a Prius, are among them. (Palm Coast goes so far as to tie prizes to recycling.)
It’s called the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation. It runs from April 1 through April 30. It’s a non-profit national community service campaign created by the Wyland Foundation, named for its founder, the artist Robert Wyland known usually by his last name alone, and for his enormous murals of whales. The challenge takes the form of a contest. The winning city will be the one whose mayor most inspires residents to make a series of informative, easy-to-use online pledges to reduce water and energy usage, pollute less, recycle more. You can take the challenge immediately here. The more people pledge, the greater their city’s chance to win.
Netts explains the challenge in a brief video the city produced. “Let’s show the other cities around the nation how Palm Coast takes care of opur planet,” Netts says in the video. Cities compete in categories set out by population. Palm Coast is in the 30,000-99,999 category.
Cities with the highest percentage of residents who take the challenge in their population category, a city news release states, are entered into drawings for hundreds of eco-friendly prizes, including home improvement gift cards, home irrigation equipment, and the Grand Prize Toyota Prius V. The challenge also features additional resources for residents to take their commitment of conservation even further, from regional water and energy resource issues to cost-saving tips at home.
It’s not rocket science. The pledges include commitments to take shorter showers, wash only full loads of dishes and laundry, power down to save electricity, landscape with climate-appropriate plants, recycle, drive less, use recyclable shopping bags, reduce paper use, use refillable water bottles (those plastic ones are landfills’ nightmares), waste less food (a difficult concept in the United States of Plenty). Or, to put it more earthily, “just because a house has a front lawn “doesn’t mean it has to be all St. Augustine grass,” Netts says.
“The whole idea is to get the whole community to pitch in and help us save water,” Netts said Friday morning. He then gave what seemed to him like an ideal example. This morning, after reading about the challenge in the News-Journal, a Palm Coast resident sent Netts an email about how she’d been walking by a faucet at Linear Park that was leaking water. She reported it, in hopes to have it fixed.
He emailed her back. “It’s exactly what the water challenge is all about,” Netts said.
Netts believes that ultimately, Florida will counter its coming water shortage by building desalination plants, the way other countries where potable water is scarce do. Palm Coast almost did so when it spearheaded a coalition of local governments in the latter part of the last decade to build a desalination plant in the county. It was an expensive proposition, with projected costs ranging between $180 million and $234 million. Even the planning was expensive. Palm Coast spent around $2 million, and while other governments spent far less, it was those up-front costs, and a housing crash that drastically diminished near-term population projections, that led to the consortium’s collapse.
But it’s only a matter of time before the state either puts an end to permitting consumption—since the state, not local governments, permit communities to draw water from the ground or from rivers—or compels communities to look at desalination-like projects again, Netts says.
“Look at California, 25 percent mandated reduction in water,” he says, referring to California Gov. Jerry Brown’s order this week of the state’s first mandatory water restrictions, to address a severe drought. Brown ordered the state’s Water Resources Control Board, which are the equivalent of Florida’s water management districts, to come up with any measures that comply with an overall 25 percent reduction in consumption.
“People should realize we are in a new era,” Brown said at a news conference, in comments cited by the New York Times and other media. “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”
Netts echoed the same words Friday: “We’re going to learn eventually that water is a limited resource.”