Regional water shortage persists in Fla.

Oct. 5, 2007
September rainfall offered only marginal gains for water levels in Lake Okeechobee, a primary backup water supply to five million South Floridians and the source of water for irrigation across more than 500,000 acres of farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Rainfall for the entire month was slightly above average across the region. As a result of the rainfall, coastal groundwater and surface water levels across nearly all of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) have...

• Lake Okeechobee water levels remain well below previous historic lows for this time of year

WEST PALM BEACH, FL, Oct. 2, 2007 -- September rainfall offered only marginal gains for water levels in Lake Okeechobee, a primary backup water supply to five million South Floridians and the source of water for irrigation across more than 500,000 acres of farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Rainfall for the entire month was slightly above average across the region.

As a result of the rainfall, coastal groundwater and surface water levels across nearly all of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) have improved over the past 30 days. However, water levels in most inland water bodies and monitoring wells remain at or near historic lows, as District-wide rainfall remains below average for 2007, and rainfall patterns continue to favor southeastern residential areas.

Lake Okeechobee, the largest water body in South Florida's water management system and a leading indicator of regional water supply conditions, reached an all-time record low of 8.82 feet above sea level on July 3, 2007. The Lake level registered 9.96 feet above sea level this morning, up only 0.45 feet since September 1. This is 0.82 feet below its previous historic low for this date of 10.78 feet above sea level, recorded on Oct. 3, 1956. A year ago today, the lake's water level was 13.35 feet above sea level, 3.39 feet higher than this morning's reading. (Click here for chart of Lake Okeechobee levels)

Lake Okeechobee water levels have been setting new record daily lows for 122 consecutive days, and according to water managers, the growing disparity between current lake level readings and previous historic lows continues to suggest that South Florida may experience back-to-back water shortage years for the first time since the early 1980s.

September 2007 followed the driest August since 1987 and fourth driest on record since 1932, yielding District-wide rainfall of 7.38 inches, or about five percent above the historical average for the month. At only 36.18 inches, or 83 percent of the historical average through Monday, Oct. 1, year-to-date average rainfall remains below normal for the 16-county region.

"South Florida remains in a severe regional water shortage, with the heart of our system -- Lake Okeechobee -- still nearly five feet below normal elevations for this time of year," said SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle. "Absent dramatic rain events in basins north of Lake Okeechobee over the next thirty days, we will almost certainly face a more severe regional water shortage in the spring of 2008."

The official Lake Okeechobee water elevation is reported each day by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the average of four state-of-the-art monitoring stations located within the lake basin. The South Florida dry season usually begins in November and continues through May, with lake levels normally rising during the wet season and falling during the dry season.

Water Restrictions Still in Effect
Extreme water shortage conditions persist in the Everglades Agricultural Area and in portions of Hendry, Glades, Okeechobee, Martin and western Palm Beach counties, which remain in full Phase III water restrictions. Due to below average rainfall and subsequent low groundwater levels in the District's Lower West Coast, full Phase II restrictions remain in place for Lee and portions of Collier, Hendry, Glades and Charlotte counties. Landscape irrigation in St. Lucie, Martin, eastern Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties remains limited to two days per week in most areas.

The SFWMD continues to encourage both residential and agricultural water users throughout the District to voluntarily reduce water consumption and conserve water.

The South Florida Water Management District is a regional, governmental agency that oversees the water resources in the southern half of the state -- 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys. It is the oldest and largest of the state's five water management districts. The agency mission is to manage and protect water resources of the region by balancing and improving water quality, flood control, natural systems and water supply. A key initiative is cleanup and restoration of the Everglades.

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