Florida Trend
Get FREE Business News Updates


October 9, 2015
Impact: Groundwater

Photo: Mark Wemple

A Tampa Bay desalination plant cost $158 million to build. Desalinated water costs four times more than pumping groundwater.

Special Report: Sea Level Rise and Florida

Impact: Groundwater

Lilly Rockwell | 7/8/2013

Hot Spot: Tampa Bay
Salty Water

As sea level rises, it will push saltwater into aquifers that supply Floridians' drinking water. The problem will be exacerbated because water levels in the aquifers already have been lowered by pumping — to provide drinking water.

A tide gauge at St. Petersburg shows the highest average monthly sea level rise by nine inches between 1948, the first full year of recorded tide data, and 2012. That period coincided, of course, with heavy population growth, droughts and overpumping of groundwater, which worsened saltwater intrusion.

Growth predictions led to an effort to find alternative water sources, including a desalination plant. Two private firms involved in the project went bankrupt. Since regional utility Tampa Bay Water began operating it in 2007, the plant has been plagued with repairs and typically doesn't regularly produce anywhere near its 28-million-a-day full capacity. Part of the reason is that desalinated water costs four times as much as groundwater. "Desalination is our most expensive water," says Tampa Bay Water spokesman Brandon Moore.

Utilities skittish about desalinated water may not have many choices. Barry Heimlich, a research affiliate with Florida Atlantic University's Center for Environmental Studies who has studied sea level rise and its impact, says communities in southeast and southwest Florida will begin having significant problems with flooding and saltwater intrusion in the next 20 to 30 years if they don't invest in drainage and salt-proofing the infrastructure, he says.

"Our ability to live in south Florida is totally dependent on the fact that our forefathers figured out how to drink the water in order for us to live here," Heimlich says. "And now we've got to protect that."

Tags: Environment, Sea Level Rise

Digital Access

Add digital to your current subscription, purchase a single digital issue, or start a new subscription to Florida Trend.

An overview of the features and articles in this month's issue of Florida Trend.


Florida Business News

Florida Trend Video Pick

Size, scope and offerings of one of Florida's largest hospitals
Size, scope and offerings of one of Florida's largest hospitals

James Burkhart, president & CEO of Tampa General Hospital details the medical center's size and service area, expresses the hospital's commitment to dispersed access care and expounds on the expanding use of electronic medical records.

Earlier Videos | Viewpoints@FloridaTrend

Ballot Box

About the proposed open-carry gun law: Are you in favor of allowing Floridians with concealed-handgun permits to openly display their weapons?

  • No
  • Yes

See Results

Ballot Box