Florida at risk of facing water-supply strain over next 50 years, report warns

By Andy Reid, originally posted on November 15, 2016


If growing Florida keeps sucking up water, we risk not having enough to meet our needs in the next 50 years, a new study says.

Residents and businesses would have to pay more to turn salt water into drinking water. More farms could disappear. And wetlands like the Everglades, already suffering from decades of draining, would be strained even further.

The environmental group 1000 Friends of Florida teamed up with the state’s agricultural department and the University of Florida to produce the Water 2070 study.

According to its projections, development-related water use could increase 100 percent — to nearly 7 billion gallons per day — if the state’s population boom and current building patterns are left unchecked.

“We don’t have the water,” said Frank Jackalone, of the Sierra Club. “We will endanger our aquifer by putting more homes on the open spaces we have left.”

To avoid a water-supply crisis, the report calls for limiting suburbia’s spread across farmland and implementing more aggressive water-conservation efforts — from less lawn watering to using higher-efficiency appliances.

Landscape irrigation is estimated to account for half of household water use.

To reduce that number, the report calls for taking steps such as not running automated sprinklers if it has rained within 24 hours and landscaping with drought-tolerant plants that don’t require as much irrigation.

Even following the report’s recommendations still would lead to a 50 percent increase in development-related water use, according to the projections.

In addition to conservation and efficiency improvements, the report calls for expanding efforts to clean up treated wastewater and use it for irrigation and other needs.

It recommends investing in water-treatment plants that can filter ocean water or tap into deep, underground saltwater supplies that are more costly to turn into drinking water.

“The numbers are very concerning,” said Cori Hermle, environmental consultant for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “We have an array of solutions that are available. … That will help us.”

The water study is a follow-up to recommendations the groups released in September about how to preserve farmland and other open spaces from development as Florida’s population grows.

Like the groups’ previous evaluation, the Water 2070 report calls for allowing more intense development within or near already urbanized areas and preserving more farmland and natural land.

That’s because suburban areas with lots of lawns to keep green tend to use more water per home than more densely populated areas, according to the study.

Reining in the reach of urban sprawl and requiring residents to do more to save water are among the ways called for to ready for 15 million more Floridians expected by 2070.

“If we put this many more straws into the aquifer to remove water, it’s going to increase the strain,” said Peggy Carr, of the University of Florida GeoPlan Center. “We better be thinking about much more stringent measures from conservation.”

Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties would continue to be among the largest water users in the decades to come, though Central Florida’s availability of remaining open spaces for development could produce the biggest eventual water use, according to the report.

The report projects that South Florida’s water use for drinking water and farming would increase 40 percent to nearly 3 billion gallons per day, based on current trends.

Following the report’s recommendations would still increase South Florida’s water use about 24 percent, to an estimated 2.6 billion gallons per day.

South Florida’s sugar cane-covered farming region south of Lake Okeechobee is projected to continue to be a big water user through 2070.

More development moving west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach as well as into Loxahatchee could add to Palm Beach County’s water supply needs. Much of the open spaces in Broward and Miami-Dade counties have already been built on, but the study still projects a growing population there adding to the water supply strain.

To boost conservation, the report recommends updating building codes to include tougher water-efficiency standards for new homes and significantly remodeled homes.

“We really have to think about how we grow and how we use water,” Ryan Smart, 1000 Friends president. “We still have time to address this situation.”

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