South Florida's new water restrictions are about to get tighter.
South Florida typically gets 52 inches of rain a year -- 14 inches more than soggy Seattle -- but doesn't have the storage capacity to capture enough water to quench the thirst of a growing population.Man can't control the weather. It is also too late to do anything about the overcrowding in South Florida that is causing the water shortage. If water restrictions need to be tightened, so be it. This news makes that new golf course that was approved look more foolish than ever. Can that half a million gallons of water a day blunder be rescinded? It should be.
"It's a storage issue, that's the problem," said Bevin Beaudet, water utilities director for Palm Beach County. "There are solutions, but they are not cheap, and they are going to take a while."
Much of the rain is flushed out to sea in canals built decades ago to drain the Everglades to make room for sugar cane fields and suburbia.
Instead of collecting rainwater, most communities continue to tap shallow underground water supplies and rely on water from Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades for backup.
During the current drought, the demands of almost 6 million people strain this cheap and easy approach, and leave them waiting for summer's drenching rains.
With water levels in the Everglades dropping more than expected last week, South Florida could feel its watering restrictions tighten further as early as Monday. Low water levels in Lake Okeechobee triggered three-day-a-week watering restrictions last month.
These developments make it even more urgent for cities and counties to develop alternative sources of water. That mandate was issued by the South Florida Water Management District earlier this year when it limited the Everglades as an additional water supply.
Most of the almost 1 billion gallons of drinking water produced by local utilities each day in South Florida comes from an underground source called the Biscayne aquifer. Wells 100- to 150-feet deep produce water that requires minimal treatment.
"It is easy to get to and inexpensive to treat," said Chip Merriam, deputy executive director for the South Florida Water Management District.
Rainwater that soaks into the ground replenishes the Biscayne aquifer, but pavement covers much of the ground that used to absorb water, and drainage systems make it hard for the aquifer to get as much rainwater as it used to.
Water from conservation areas along the eastern Everglades also flows through canals to replenish community well fields, areas where water seeps into the ground and eventually the aquifer. Water managers limit how much water communities can take to conserve water for natural areas.
Lake Okeechobee, fed by the Kissimmee River to the north, provides backup water that communities count on to resupply canals that recharge their well fields.
While water managers pressure cities to find alternative water supplies, they search for ways to better control the level of Lake Okeechobee.
Lake Okeechobee's average water level was 10.48 feet on Friday, 4 feet below normal. The historic low of 8.97 feet was reached during the 2001 drought.
Part of the reason the lake dipped was that water managers last year lowered levels in anticipation of hurricanes that never materialized. Forecasts for a busy storm season and concern about the strength of the lake's 70-year-old dike prompted managers to release lake water to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
The water management district, which manages the lake with the Army Corps of Engineers, is working with Columbia University to analyze long-term climate variations to avoid lowering the lake for storms that never show up, said Upmanu Lall, chairman of Columbia University's Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering.
In 2006, South Florida's annual average rainfall was 40.75 inches, instead of the normal 52 inches. So far this year, rainfall totals are 4 inches below normal.
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