South Florida Water Management District to recommend tighter water restrictions

In response to a wet season that did little to alleviate the ongoing water shortage, South Florida Water Management District staff has recommended that the District Governing Board move to increase water restrictions at their next monthly meeting on December 13. Staff recommendations included limiting lawn irrigation to one day a week and setting lower water use goals for agriculture, golf courses and nurseries. Varying degrees of water restrictions have been in place throughout South Florida...

• Regional water supply must be protected during dry season, SFWMD urges

KEY LARGO, FL, Nov. 14, 2007 -- In response to a wet season that did little to alleviate the ongoing water shortage, South Florida Water Management District staff today recommended that the District Governing Board move to increase water restrictions at their next monthly meeting on December 13. Staff recommendations included limiting lawn irrigation to one day a week and setting lower water use goals for agriculture, golf courses and nurseries.

"Caution, preparedness and conservation must be our watchwords as we enter the seven-month dry season," said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Member Eric Buermann. "These measures are needed to ensure that our shared resources remain available despite this unprecedented and severe water shortage."

Varying degrees of water restrictions have been in place throughout South Florida since the District Governing Board first issued water shortage orders last March. Successful application of these restrictions is estimated to have saved 11.7 billion gallons of potable water from March 22, when restrictions first went into effect, through June 30. This savings was determined based on data reported by 46 public water utilities in Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Collier, Lee and Miami-Dade counties only.

Savings were most pronounced on non-watering days. For example, in the four weeks before restrictions went into effect, Broward and Palm Beach counties typically used 490 million gallons of potable water on Mondays. During Phase III restrictions in May, which cut watering back to one day per week, potable water use dropped to 360 million gallons on Mondays.

During the ongoing water shortage, the District has received strong support from local governments enforcing residential water restrictions. Since March, more than 11,000 warning notices and 12,000 citations were issued by city and county governments. District officials also issued more than 700 notices of violation and collected $400,000 in civil penalties.

"Every South Florida resident can help stretch our water resources by adhering to restrictions and also voluntarily stepping up their in-home water conservation practices," said South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Carol Wehle. "It is highly probable that more stringent water restrictions may be necessary before the end of this dry season."

The District is re-adjusting water restrictions to reflect ongoing conditions that are expected to persist until the rainy season returns in May 2008. In terms of rainfall, the two-year period from Nov. 2005 to October 2007 ranks as the driest on record at the District dating back to 1932. The District received an average of only 85.34 inches of rain during this period, or 82 percent of the historical average.

Recent rains have fallen primarily on the East Coast, leaving Lake Okeechobee without a primary source of water recharge. The vast lake is the region's backup water supply, but remains critically low and could reach levels between 7 feet and 8 feet this dry season. As of Nov. 14, the lake level was at 10.34 feet, or more than one foot below its previous historic low.

Current water shortage response plans include maximizing the water storage capacity in coastal canals to encourage aquifer recharge, and retrofitting temporary forward pumps installed in Lake Okeechobee to ensure water availability for lakeside communities and agriculture.

Looking to the future, water managers are initiating the rule development process of a District-wide comprehensive water conservation program. The program will include stakeholder and private sector involvement. Its goal is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the region's water resources, increase water use efficiency and curtail wasteful water use practices through regulatory measures, education and voluntary and incentive-based programs.

The effort leads off with a Water Conservation Summit scheduled to draw insight from the experience of other organizations that have developed and implemented successful water conservation programs in other regions of the country. The summit is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. A final report with recommendations will be presented during the Governing Board meeting in April 2008, Water Conservation Month.

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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