NAVIGATION

February 21, 2017
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

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

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

ACCESS THIS ISSUE »

Florida Business News

Florida Trend Video Pick

Sta-Bil National Lawn Mower Racing
Sta-Bil National Lawn Mower Racing

Riding lawn mower racers from across the United States gathered at the Florida State Fairgrounds to compete at the 2017 Sta-Bil National Lawn Mower Racing Series Winter Nationals this weekend. 

Earlier Videos | Viewpoints@FloridaTrend

Ballot Box

If you had a child about to enter school, which would be your preference?

  • Public education
  • Private school
  • Home school
  • I'd like a voucher program, to facilitate choice

See Results

Ballot Box
Subscribe