PALATKA – A four-year study concludes that significant amounts of water can be pumped out of the St. Johns River to support population growth in Central Florida without harming the river in North Florida, environmental regulators said Tuesday.

Elements of the $3.7 million study were disputed, but core findings are being counted on by the St. Johns River Water Management District to lessen the potential for a resumption of costly water wars between Central and North Florida.

The St. Johns River Water Supply Impact Study was spurred by North Florida’s vehement opposition to Seminole County’s construction of a water-treatment plant near Sanford.

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The water district’s executive director, Hans G. Tanzler III, noted the study was launched when “Florida was growing dramatically.”

Pressure to tap the river water, which flows 310 miles from south of Orlando to the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville, faded dramatically with the Great Recession.

Still, the study looks ahead to consider withdrawing more than 150 million gallons a day from the river, nearly twice as much as Orlando now consumes.

Ed Lowe, district director of environmental sciences, said the study evaluated vulnerability to bugs, plants, plankton, fish and wildlife. The most serious effects would occur within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean and those would not necessarily be harmful, Lowe said.

Lisa Rinaman of the St. Johns Riverkeeper group said the study erred in not giving greater consideration to the Ocklawaha River, the St. Johns’ largest tributary.

And Charles Lee, advocacy director for Audubon of Florida, said it overstates how much river withdrawals will be offset by runoff from future land developments.

Lee said new developments will capture rainfall so that “we don’t think there is going to be a significant amount of runoff.”

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