July 3, 2020

Water and Florida

Florida's water future: Where is it going? Where will it come from?

Mike Vogel | 11/28/2018

The Supply Side

Reclaimed Water
The largest amount of additional water in Florida by 2035 will come from recycled water projects, the state says. Projects to treat wastewater for reuse — in irrigating lawns, cemeteries, golf courses and in agriculture and industry or for flowing back into the aquifer — can supply nearly 40% of the growth in demand for water in Florida through 2035, the state says.

Of the wastewater generated in Florida, 48% gets reclaimed. The majority of it goes to irrigate golf courses, lawns and other “public uses” as opposed to agriculture and industry. Some 477 treatment facilities in Florida produced enough reclaimed water in 2017 to irrigate 419,016 residences, 574 golf courses, 1,016 parks and 397 schools, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Reclaimed water also irrigated 12,897 acres of edible crops on 67 farms. The amount of water Florida reuses has increased 66% since 1998.

Statewide Water Reuse Rankings (Per capita)
County Rank
Orange 3
Pinellas 16
Palm Beach 23
Hillsborough 40
Duval 54
Broward 62
Miami-Dade 63
Source: 2016 Reuse Inventory, Department of Environmental Protection


Overall, the state likes to tout that Florida is a national leader in using reclaimed water. But some of the counties in Florida that use the least reclaimed water are also the most populated. Broward, for example, is one of Florida’s leading counties in addressing sustainability issues such as rising seas, but it’s one of the least productive at reusing water.

Jennifer Jurado, Broward’s chief resilience officer, says county comparisons can mislead. Some counties might use reclaimed water to feed the aquifer in a way that Broward wouldn’t because of water quality issues. Also, lightly populated counties that produce small volumes of water for reclamation but have large agricultural areas may be able to reuse all reclaimed water.

A major issue in reclaim is when development occurred. While some Broward municipalities, especially in the more recently developed west, are active with reclamation projects, it would be too expensive in other parts of the county to tear up roads to lay pipes to water yards that are just an eighth or quarter of an acre. Some 62% of Broward’s area is land in conservation, one of the highest percentages in Florida, with nearly 2 million people packed into the other 38%.

“It’s a tight place in which we’re working,” Jurado says. “The numbers just don’t work for the size of investment. Admittedly, we want to do more, we need to more and will continue to do more.”

Even where reclaimed water is available — governments require nearby users to tap into it — issues can arise as to quality and quantity, says Luna Phillips, an environmental and land-use attorney with law firm Gunster in Fort Lauderdale. In dry times, for example, users need more water and may compete for available reclaimed water supplies. “It creates a lot of uncertainty for the user. It’s not clear sometimes how much water will be available and how much it will meet the needs of that user,” Phillips says.

Rates: A Sampler
The University of North Carolina’s Environmental Finance Center collects data on water rates throughout the country.

Looking at a sample of water rates in Florida’s larger metro areas, Miami-Dade County charges its residents less than most for the initial 4,000 gallons. Water rates in the Orlando area are also among the lowest among the metros, and the Orlando Utilities Commission sends its users a weak “conservation signal” — the price it charges per 1,000 gallons for usage that exceeds 10,000 gallons. Among the state’s major metros, West Palm Beach charges the highest for the initial 4,000 gallons.

For data on all Florida communities, Google “Florida Water And Wastewater Rates Dashboard.”

  Water bill at 4,000 gallons Charge per 1,000 gallons after 10,000 gallons Median affordability (annual bills as % of median household income)
West Palm Beach $35.55 $4.27 .91%
Pensacola 21.70 2.44 .57
St. Petersburg 20.35 5.15 .51
Palm Beach County 19.77 7.91 .43
Fort Lauderdale 18.71 6.10 .43
Jacksonville 16.32 2.60 .41
Tampa 11.29 5.44 .30
Orlando (OUC) 11.11 1.66 .30
Miami-Dade County 9.19 5.16 .25

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