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Statewide, Florida averages between 48 to 60 inches of rain annually. How is it, then, that Florida experiences such major water shortfalls?
The reason is the state’s water management system, historically, was designed to drain rainfall from inland areas to the coast as rapidly as possible to keep land usable for commercial and residential development, agricultural purposes and other land use needs. Original plans also called for creating retention areas or reservoirs to capture water during heavy rainfall, but most of these were never built.
In essence, Florida’s water management system, does not “manage,” it drains, and if we continue with this type of water policy, in the very near future, key regions of Florida will experience even more severe water shortages.
For some time now, regional leaders and the state’s three water management districts covering the peninsula have been coming together to study Florida’s water issues, and to develop potential solutions. The upcoming 2015 Legislative session may very well yield some long-needed legislation to address the issue on a statewide level.
Amendment 1, also known as the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, was passed on Tuesday and will require a defined percentage (33 percent) of revenue from the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions to be earmarked for water conservation and management projects over the next 20 years. These funds would 1) enable the state to manage and maintain existing properties, and 2) for a percentage of funds to be bonded so the state can acquire, construct and maintain property for large regional water projects over the next two decades.
Other water management solutions include efforts to earmark other funds to help determine why water flow is decreasing in springs throughout the state, and to develop solutions to recharge the springs. Also, the Everglades are always an issue, and it is necessary to provide distribution of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades, and to stop discharge to estuaries where discharge causes harm to the environment.
On November 21st, the Central Florida Partnership Regional Leadership forum will be convening at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport to send a clear message: If central Florida does not act soon to address the region’s water management issues, the region will experience a significant water shortfall sooner, rather than later, which not only will cause harm to the environment, but hamper the economy of the entire region.
Up until recently, most everyone in central Florida has relied on groundwater for supply, but groundwater no longer has the capacity to sustainably meet current or future needs for central Florida. Conservation and retention of surface water are needed to resolve the state’s water needs. For example, there is abundance of water in the Treasure Coast region of the state, and currently, this water is discharged into the estuary and Indian River lagoon, causing harm to native habitats. Meanwhile, central Florida is running short on water to meet the ever-increasing demands of a burgeoning population—an estimated 6.6 million people within 40 years.
A key solution would be to capture this runoff and allow it to go where it normally would go but for manmade canals—into the headwaters of the St. Johns River. A proposed reconnection project could create a new source of in excess of 125 million gallons of water per day for central Florida, which could be used for the environment, recreation, irrigation or public supply.
As a statewide law firm, Dean Mead continues to play a role in working with clients and governmental bodies to develop regional solutions, identifying areas where water is abundant, and finding economically efficient ways to distribute water to areas where it is needed.
On paper, the solution is simple, but in reality, it is not easy. The key to success will lie in all parties on local, regional and state levels, coming together to find ways to best meet the needs of all of Florida’s residents, current and future.
To read more on Florida’s water issues and solutions, please see “Ebb and flow: Managing Florida’s Water Supply,” by Mark R. Howard, editor of Florida Trend; “One-on-One with Michael Minton,” in i4 Business; and “Florida’s Water Resource Challenges,” in the September 2014 issue of the Florida Engineering Society Journal.