South Florida Water Management District adopts regional water availability rule

The Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has authorized the adoption of a rule that would limit water supply demands from the Everglades and Loxahatchee River Watershed over levels that existed prior to April 2006. The rule would affect water suppliers in urban areas along the District's lower east coast, including Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties...

New rule to limit dependence on the Everglades system for water supply in Florida's southeastern coastal counties.

WEST PALM BEACH, FL, Feb. 16, 2007 -- The Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has authorized the adoption of a rule that would limit water supply demands from the Everglades and Loxahatchee River Watershed over levels that existed prior to April 2006. The rule would affect water suppliers in urban areas along the District's lower east coast, including Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

During the dry season, Lower East Coast water suppliers currently depend on an estimated 500 million gallons of water per day from the Everglades to sustain their primary drinking water source, the Biscayne Aquifer. In turn, low dry season water levels have disturbed the Everglades ecosystem, and the State of Florida has committed billions of dollars to reversing these impacts by restoring natural flows and levels.

Over the past six years since the state and federal governments approved the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), the SFWMD has imposed limitations on permits for Everglades water to address environmental concerns on the assumption that CERP would be implemented as scheduled.

In October 2004, acknowledging early delays, the SFWMD announced Acceler8, a far-reaching initiative to expedite the funding, design and construction of a series of critical Everglades restoration projects that will restore 100,000 acres of wetlands, expand water treatment areas, and provide 428,000 acre-feet of additional water storage a decade ahead of schedule.

Due to unprecedented growth and ongoing delays in federal funding for Everglades restoration, however, the District is now compelled to impose stricter limitations on the use of Everglades water if it is to protect this natural resource.

As a result of today's rule, cities needing additional water supplies will be required to seek sources that are not dependent upon the Everglades for recharge. These alternative water supply solutions include recycling water, using reclaimed water to recharge the Biscayne Aquifer, or drawing water from the deeper Floridan Aquifer, which also would require treatment before being deemed safe to drink.

"This is a big win for the environment and a bold action by our Governing Board amid apprehensions from several local governments and utilities," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Kevin McCarty. "Our water resources are not unlimited; and this rule will ensure that local governments manage growth more responsibly, promote sensible water conservation, and preserve our water resources for future generations to use and enjoy."

"Mike Collins, my colleague on the South Florida Water Management District's Governing Board, has been the leading advocate for the adoption of this rule, and he should be commended for his leadership," he added.

A key provision of the rule is that existing consumptive water use permits will not be affected. The rule only will apply when existing permits are scheduled to expire, requiring renewal by the District. The rule also provides a "grace" period during which temporary increases in dependence on Everglades water will be allowed while alternative supplies are being developed. This will prevent immediate shortfalls in water necessary to continue meeting public drinking water needs as concrete steps are taken by water suppliers to implement other sources.

"The regional water availability rule is essential for protecting the water left in the Everglades for restoration," added SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle. "It represents a strong and very clear policy statement from our board that the South Florida Water Management District will protect water for the environment."

"This rule is an important first step to ensuring the water needed to restore the environment is reserved," said David Anderson, Executive Director of Audubon of Florida.

Several state and federal laws regarding implementation of CERP require the SFWMD to protect water necessary for the restoration of the Everglades.

In April 2006, the SFWMD governing board authorized District staff to initiate the development of a rule to limit increased reliance on the Everglades system and dependent groundwater as "sources of limited availability." The District subsequently held five rounds of workshops and issued five rule drafts in response to comments from stakeholders, prior to developing and publishing today's final draft. Rule adoption could be prevented if a legal challenge is filed against it.

The South Florida Water Management District (www.sfwmd.gov) 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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