Florida: Wet season over, water shortage remains

It rained, but not nearly enough. That's how South Florida's 2007 wet season went into the record books -- as a summer with average rainfall. Despite localized wet weather and fringe impacts from Tropical Storm Noel last week, seasonal rains did not sufficiently replenish regional water supplies to meet the coming dry season's demands. With the wet season now over, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today warned South Florida residents to prepare for a prolonged, severe...

• South Florida Water Management District warns of tighter restrictions; Dry season impacts to Lake Okeechobee and Lower West Coast may be severe

WEST PALM BEACH, FL, Nov. 6, 2007 -- It rained, but not nearly enough. That's how South Florida's 2007 wet season went into the record books -- as a summer with average rainfall. Despite localized wet weather and fringe impacts from Tropical Storm Noel last week, seasonal rains did not sufficiently replenish regional water supplies to meet the coming dry season's demands. With the wet season now over, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today warned South Florida residents to prepare for a prolonged, severe water shortage with the possibility of tighter water restrictions ahead.

"A normal wet season was never going to be enough to pull us out of the water shortage left behind by the 2006 far-below-normal wet season and subsequent dry season," said Carol Ann Wehle, executive director of the SFWMD. "Our consistent message to South Florida residents has been that we remain in a severe regional water shortage. Now as we enter the dry season, water conservation will be critical to ensuring there is enough water available."

In almost all locations, District-wide surface and groundwater levels are lower today than they were a year ago, particularly in the Lake Okeechobee and Lower West Coast areas. According to water managers, these regions are likely to experience the most severe water shortage impacts next spring. ( Click here for graphs of district rain fall & Historic Lake Low Levels & Graph)

Lake Okeechobee Still Low
At 10.38 feet above sea level yesterday, Lake Okeechobee's water level was 1.15 feet below its previous historic low for this date of 11.53 feet above sea level, recorded on Nov. 5, 1981. A year ago, on Nov. 5, 2006, the lake's water level was 12.67 feet above sea level, 2.29 feet higher. Meanwhile, groundwater monitoring wells in Lee and Collier counties suggest that on average, groundwater levels in that region are two to four feet lower today than a year ago.

Because Lake Okeechobee serves as a primary backup water supply to more than five million South Floridians in the District's Lower East Coast, residents there must continue to observe current modified Phase II restrictions, even though local rainfall has seemed plentiful. Residents are also encouraged to conserve water within the home to help stretch regional supplies. Without a reprieve from above average rainfall, Lower East Coast residents also may experience tighter water restrictions this spring, as local supplies are depleted due to increased dry season water demands.

Rainfall Recordkeeping
In terms of rainfall, the past 24 months (Nov. 1, 2005 -- October 31, 2007) rank as the sixth driest two-year period on record at the District dating back to 1932. The District received an average of only 85.34 inches of rain during this period -- 82 percent of the historical average, or a deficit of 18.66 inches. For one-year periods, 2006 was the sixth driest year in the SFWMD's 75-year period of record, with a District-wide average of only 40.75 inches of rain. Rainfall in 2007 has already surpassed that amount, but it is still only about 87 percent of normal. As of October 31, the District-wide rainfall average was 41.20 inches.

At an average of 33.73 inches, District-wide rainfall for the 2007 wet-season thus far has proven to be in line with the historical average, although rain patterns continue to disproportionately favor the District's densely populated east coast. The Lake Okeechobee and Lower West Coast basins, the two most critically dry basins heading into the next dry season, each received only 83 percent of their respective historical rainfall averages. In stark contrast, eastern St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties collectively received more than 118 percent of their historical averages.

At present, climate forecasters are reasonably confident that the current La Niña weather pattern of colder than normal temperatures in the equatorial Pacific is likely to result in lower than normal rainfall in the Southeastern United States. For the District, this is likely to represent a two-to-six-inch deficit through March 2008. Typical dry season rainfall is approximately 18 inches District-wide.

Water Restrictions Still in Effect
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, drought 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 historically low groundwater levels in the District's Lower West Coast, full Phase II restrictions remain in place for Collier, Lee and portions of 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 all water users to voluntarily reduce water consumption and observe normal water conservation practices.

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.

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