Water and Florida
Florida's water future: Where is it going? Where will it come from?
The Supply Side
Most of the fresh groundwater used in Florida comes from the Floridan aquifer system. In 2010, of a total groundwater use of 4.1 billion gallons per day (bgd), nearly two-thirds was obtained from the Floridan aquifer. The remaining groundwater was from the Biscayne, surficial and intermediate aquifer systems. Finally, the sand-and-gravel aquifer has served as a water source in the Florida panhandle.
Continued water withdrawals from the aquifer systems pose long-term threats to water supply — and also to the health of Florida’s springs. Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in High Springs, wrote in a recent op-ed article that abundant rainfall beginning in June 2017 reversed the effects of a several-year drought in North Florida, producing rising levels in the Floridan aquifer and area lakes and increased flows into the springs. “However, despite these two years of above-normal rainfall, long-term aquifer levels are still trending downward and have been declining for the past 50 years. Long-term average flows in North Florida’s springs continue to be well below historic rates,” he wrote.
One part of ensuring adequate water supply involves the state’s acquisition of conservation lands, which limit development and provide areas for recharging aquifers. Currently, 10.66 million acres — 30% of the state’s land area — are in conservation.
Every Florida county has publicly owned lands dedicated to conservation. More than 50% of the land in eight counties is in conservation; the smallest public share occurs in Union County, just 0.1%.
Less than 3% of the conservation acreage in Florida is privately owned; the state owns about 53% of the publicly owned land, with 42% owned by the federal government and about 5% owned by local governments.
Currently, a dedicated revenue source for managing the state’s lands does not exist, and the additional lands for conservation will require funds for both acquisition and management. In 2016-17, the state spent $68.1 million to acquire land and $192.6 million to manage its conservation holdings. The projected cost for future acquisitions by the state and water management districts exceeds $10.6 billion. The additional cost for managing these lands is projected to be $172.4 million annually for both the state and water management districts.
Wild Card — The Everglades and Sea Level Rise
Eighteen years into Everglades restoration, as rising seas overtake the ecosystem and the glacial pace of replumbing points toward needing a half-century or longer to finish, state and federal authorities need to make a midcourse assessment. That’s the view of an independent scientific panel required by Congress every two years to review Everglades restoration progress.
The panel found “impressive” efforts but said more thought must be given on how climate change and sea-level rise will impact projects. The Everglades midcentury will differ from that envisioned in the 2000 plan. “There is now ample evidence that the South Florida climate is changing,” the report says. “There is general consensus that temperatures will increase over time, although considerable uncertainty about future rainfall patterns remains. There is also compelling recent evidence that sea-level rise is accelerating. These changes will have profound impacts on the South Florida ecosystem and the related challenges of providing flood protection and meeting future water and recreational demands.” The report says restoration is “likely” to increase the system’s resilience to climate change but that needs to be studied.
A bright note: Phosphorus runoff — a bane of the Everglades — reached its lowest level ever in 2017. Water quality is improving south of Lake Okeechobee.