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What does Florida’s water mean to you?

Today is World Water Day, an annual United Nations Observance. This year’s theme is dedicated to the value of freshwater. They’ve asked us to think: what does our water mean to us? Here in Florida, we can’t think of a better question to ask. Our crystal springs and flowing rivers are the heart of the state. Beyond the economic and life-sustaining values, they provide emotional and cultural benefits as well. 

Two kayakers enjoying a paddle down the Juniper Springs canoe run. 2012 UF/IFAS Extension Calendar. Image by Tyler Jones.

In Florida, we depend on the aquifers for our freshwater needs. Aquifers are underground reservoirs of freshwater. Most of Florida relies on one large aquifer for their water needs- the Floridan Aquifer. We pull from this aquifer for our potable water (used for things like drinking, household needs, agriculture, and for watering most lawns). This water also feeds our rivers, springs, and wetlands. This supports Florida’s ecosystems, as well as our tourism and recreation. 

Floridan Aquifer system. Credit: UF/IFAS

The aquifer serves many purposes but does not have an unlimited amount of water. “Increases in water withdrawals for any purpose also reduces spring flows,” wrote Tatiana Borisova and Tara Wade in their summary “Florida’s Water Resources.” Florida receives a lot of rain, but only some of that seeps through the ground and back into the aquifer. This process is called recharge. It is important that we do not take more water from the aquifer than can be recharged, or it will not be able to support our needs or our resources in the future.  

Divers at Ginnie Springs. June 2008 IFAS Extension Calendar Photo. UF/IFAS Photo: Sally Lanigan.

Florida’s population is growing, and these new homes and people will increase the demand for water. The Florida 2070/Water 2070 projects wrote in their recent Joint Special Report that “the almost 15 million new Floridians in our state by 2070 will add a heavy burden to Florida’s fragile water supply, with water use projected to more than double.”  

Our UF/IFAS Extension program, H2OSAV, has seen that newer homes (built 2015-2019) are using 55% of their water on irrigation. This means that these new homes are using more than half their water simply on their lawns. Reducing landscape irrigation is one of the biggest ways we can reduce the strain on our aquifer.  

For World Water Day, we hope you think about where Florida water comes from, everything it does for us, and how we can reduce our impact on the aquifer. We wanted our colleagues and friends to think about these same things. H2OSAV is a part of the Center for Land Use Efficiency (CLUE). For World Water Day, we asked our CLUE family the question: what does Florida’s water mean to you? Here are a few of their responses: 

Trees reflecting on the water at Silver Springs State Park. Credit: UF/IFAS H2OSAV, Kaitlin Robb Price

“Florida’s waters are the life force for our people, our abundance and our growth. They provide the richness to our plant life and food systems. I love the mystery of the aquifers– to think that so much water is hidden beneath us is still magical to me. -Wendy Wilber, UF/IFAS Statewide Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator

So much that I have no real way to express in words.” -Basil Iannone, Assistant Professor, School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatic Sciences

Water means life to me. Without water we die. It is one of the most important combinations of atoms on this planet. -Charles Barrett, Water Resources RSA, IFAS Extension, CLUE, Horticultural Sciences

Water is Florida’s most important resource. It is essential to our daily lives in more ways than we can count. Florida’s water is why I love living here.-Nick Taylor, State Specialized Extension Agent, PREC/H2OSAV

Florida’s water to me means having peace of mind knowing that I am surrounded by so many natural water sources, and I’m able to experience them myself. To me, Florida’s water means access to nature’s beauty.” – Parker Johnson, Data Analyst, H2OSAV 

Water provides life in more ways than one. Without water I know I couldn’t do my favorite hobbies, like tending to my garden, kayaking, or photographing our state’s wildlife. All of these rely on keeping Florida’s aquifer full and our springs flowing. As as our population grows, we need to ensure that our water use is sustainable and equitable for generations to come. As we reflect this World Water Day, how would you answer the question: what does Florida’s water mean to you? 

Summer camping on the Sante Fe River. UF/IFAS Photo: Sally Lanigan.