Urgent scenarios for region's water outlook

As South Florida experiences its third driest season on record dating back to 1932, a new, independent study funded by a grant from the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties lays out four water scenarios for the area's future -- all of them urgent...

• Community Foundation event to eye alternatives

WEST PALM BEACH, FL, Apr. 20, 2009 -- As South Florida experiences its third driest season on record dating back to 1932, a new, independent study funded by a grant from the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties lays out four water scenarios for the area's future -- all of them urgent.

The study, set for official release on Monday Apr. 27 at 8:00 a.m. during a breakfast conference of media, environmental organizations and local government representatives at the Community Foundation's West Palm Beach offices, questions: "Has the region passed a tipping point in which the wells literally run dry and insufficient water is available to meet rising demands?"

Dr. Lance Gunderson, chair of the Department of Environmental Studies at Emory University and co-author of the study, Envisioning Alternative Futures for Water Resources in Palm Beach and Martin Counties, is slated to speak and will be available to the media.

"This study, which was undertaken through a grant from our Environmental Endowment Fund, casts a critical eye on the state of our area's water supply and addresses the dwindling alternatives," Community Foundation President and CEO Leslie Lilly said.

"Dry Wells" rank as number one among the four alarming scenarios that depict "very different futures for water resources in Palm Beach and Martin counties." Each will be discussed in depth during the study's presentation on Apr. 27. The study was co-authored by Stephen Light of Adaptive Strategies Inc.

In addition to water conservation, water quality issues will also be discussed. Attendees at the Community Foundation breakfast conference will also hear first hand about the world's first network of ORCA's Kilroy Water Monitoring Systems, also funded in part by a grant from the foundation's Environmental Endowment Fund. Dr. Edith "Edie" Widder of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association will share the newest conservation tool being developed by the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA).

Kilroy provides more accurate water quality data than conventional sampling methods and is already being used to monitor water quality in the Indian River Lagoon. "This collection of comprehensive data is critical to the success of water conservation and protection. The Community Foundation is proud to be among the funders of this important work," Lilly said.

According to South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the 2008-2009 South Florida dry season has become the third driest on record since 1932. Water levels in its 16-county district are declining, and the stage is set for drought conditions to worsen still further, as the driest dry season on record, if adequate rain does not fall. Latest reports show the region has reportedly received less than 30 percent of its normal rainfall this winter. Water levels of Lake Okeechobee continue declining, while estuaries at the mouths of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers are becoming too salty, and Everglades marshes and Big Cypress swamps are evaporating away.

Since 1972, the Community Foundation has granted $74 million to nonprofit organizations in the community in the areas of Arts and Culture, Community Initiatives, Community/Economic Development, Education, Environment, Health and Human Services, Human and Race Relations and Intergenerational Programs. In addition, the Foundation has awarded more than $4.5 million in scholarships to more than 1,200 local students. The Foundation awards funds and accepts contributions in support of community initiatives, projects of special interest, and permanent endowments. Income from endowments is used to make further grants and award scholarships primarily in Palm Beach and Martin counties.

The Community Foundation uses its Environmental Endowment Fund to address issues related to the environment. The fund was created to address programs that seek to preserve and improve the area's watersheds, habitat, natural resources and environment. The Environmental Endowment Fund has supported production of a documentary film, The Indian River Lagoon: Gateway to Saving the Everglades, along with educational programs and oyster-reseeding projects. It has provided grants to nonprofit organizations committed to protecting our environment.

Dr. Lance Gunderson, a Florida native, has chaired the Department of Environmental Studies at Emory University since 1999. He has served as the executive director of the Resilience Network, as Vice Chair of the Resilience Alliance and on the Science Advisory Board of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, and Chair of the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council Committee on Ecological Impacts of Road Density. He is also Co-Editor in Chief of the journal Ecology and Society which reports on integrative science for resilience and sustainability. In 2007 he was named a Beijer Fellow, of the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences.

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