2006 & 2007: South Florida's driest back-to-back years on record

Meteorologists at the South Florida Water Management District confirmed that 2006 and 2007 were the driest back-to-back calendar years in South Florida since rainfall record-keeping began in 1932. The 2006-07 rainfall total of 83.63 inches District-wide displaces by nearly an inch the previous low of 84.59 inches that fell fifty years ago in 1955-56. With annual District-wide rainfall of 42.88 inches, or 82 percent of the historical average, 2007 was the 9th driest year in the 76-year record...

• Continued lack of rainfall and likelihood of drier-than-normal dry season underscore need for water restrictions, conservation

WEST PALM BEACH, FL, Jan. 8, 2008 -- Meteorologists at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today confirmed that 2006 and 2007 were the driest back-to-back calendar years in South Florida since rainfall record-keeping began in 1932. The 2006-07 rainfall total of 83.63 inches District-wide displaces by nearly an inch the previous low of 84.59 inches that fell fifty years ago in 1955-56.

With annual District-wide rainfall of 42.88 inches, or 82 percent of the historical average, 2007 was the ninth-driest year in the 76-year record. It followed rainfall of only 40.75 inches in 2006, the sixth-driest year on record. The combined two-year total is nearly two feet less than the historical District-wide average of 104.5 inches for a typical two-year period.

"The District's rainfall data confirms that South Florida is still in the grips of a severe regional drought, which has led to a multi-year water shortage the likes of which we have never experienced," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Eric Buermann. "South Florida residents -- as well as water managers -- must live with limited water supplies this dry season, and we all must practice conservation and follow the one-day-a-week restrictions if we are to successfully minimize the impacts of this water shortage."

All of the SFWMD's major basins, save for two comprising residential areas of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, experienced below average rainfall in 2007. Most notably, the Lake Okeechobee basin received 30.71 inches of rain, approximately 67 percent of that basin's historical average, or a deficit of nearly 15 inches for the year.

"Although some southeastern counties have enjoyed average or above average rainfall this year, we have limited storage options in these densely populated areas, limiting our ability to capture large quantities of water," added Carol Ann Wehle, executive director of the SFWMD. "The lack of rainfall in central and northern portions of the District is a concern for all of us because virtually all residential areas depend on it to augment their water supplies."

Current Water Levels
Surface water and groundwater levels across most of the District remain unseasonably low and continue to decline due to below average dry season rainfall. Water levels in Lakes Istokpoga and Kissimmee, for instance, are well below regulation schedules established by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, while water levels in Kissimmee Basin monitoring wells are within the lowest 10 percent of historic elevations.

At 10.12 feet above sea level Monday, Lake Okeechobee remains more than four feet below its historical average -- and nearly a foot below previous historic lows -- for this time of year. In fact, water levels in the lake have been setting new record daily lows for more than seven months. Lake Okeechobee is the source of water for 500,000 acres of farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area and serves as a primary back-up supply to more than five million South Floridians.

Groundwater levels in Lee, Collier and other west coast counties remain two-to-four feet lower today than this time last year, with many monitoring wells already inside the lowest 10 percent of their historic water elevations.

New Water Restrictions Effective Jan. 15
In Dec. and for the first time in the agency's history, the SFWMD declared an extreme District-wide water shortage, instituting a one-day-a-week watering schedule for residential landscape irrigation. Landscape irrigation accounts for up to half of all household water consumption in the State of Florida and totals more than seven billion gallons per day nationwide.

The new restrictions become effective Tuesday, Jan. 15. Enforcement, including the issuance of civil fines and notices of violation, also is set to commence on that date. For information on watering days and times, as well as restrictions on specific use classes, visit www.sfwmd.gov/conserve.

For additional information on the water shortage, irrigation restrictions or water conservation, call the SFWMD's toll-free Water Conservation Hotline at 1-800-662-8876 or contact a regional SFWMD service center. Helpful water conservation tips also are available at www.savewaterfl.com.

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.

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