Florida Water Woes

Florida Water Woes by Jp Gellermann

Welcome to 2024! This year already has the makings of something special, but not in a good way. So far, we have had atmospheric rivers dropping record rain and flooding areas, multiple wars, and political gridlock – and that’s just by February! Florida is not exempt, either. We have several things happening statewide and locally that are impacting many of us, from rising house insurance to inflation- a million things making life more challenging!

One of the more subtle and truly significant issues we have is water. Florida is a peninsula surrounded by salt water on three sides. We have a population that is one of the nation’s fastest-growing.  As of April 2022, Florida had a population of 22,634,867 and is projected to grow by 300,000 people per year through 2028. That is the equivalent of adding a city slightly smaller than Orlando yearly.  What many people don’t realize is that water is not an unlimited resource, especially here in Florida. According to the EPA “By 2030, Florida’s demand for fresh water is estimated to increase by about 28 percent compared to 2005 levels. and traditional sources of groundwater will be unable to meet this new demand.” I can hear you from here, “It rains every day in Florida, especially in the summer. We have plenty.” Yes and no. Last year was a great example. East of Lake Okeechobee, we had regular flooding, and here on the west coast, we were in severe drought. When you are using billions of gallons per day, a large supply is important. The more folks that move here, the more supply we need. The ocean could be an alternate supply, and we do have desalinization, but the problem there is that it is expensive. It uses a lot of energy, which is expensive, and produces a lot of waste. The plants are expensive to build and maintain, and the result of these costs falls on the end user.

I am working with a group of city managers across the state to examine these issues through a panel discussion in March. The perspective they have provided me is eye-opening. The water plants that currently provide many of us with water are old, dating back to the 1970s, and in need of replacement. The projected costs are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and the supply to these new plants is questionable as well. The regulations that have been enacted because there are so many more concerns now than in the 70s further complicate the problem and drive the cost higher.

After preparing for this panel discussion and spending hours talking to the experts, I wish I could say that there is a clear path forward. There is no silver bullet to lower costs and provide more clean water in a way that does not negatively impact our rivers, lakes, and estuaries. I wish there was a golden ticket that would lower my monthly bill and yours as well. The longer I spoke to them the more I felt that the state, county, and cities across Florida will need to work together to manage our existing resources even more closely. They will need to collaborate to build water plants together to share costs and build reservoirs for entire regions and not just one area. People like you and I will need to act as better stewards of our individual water use if we want to have our cake and eat it too.

Water is essential for businesses, communities, and for life in general. It feels like more of us are beginning to see that how we manage these resources is going to greatly determine the quality of life of millions of people now and into the future. There are no free lunches in this world. And now it looks like, if you want to have a glass of water with your lunch, it’s going to cost ya!



Posted: February 27, 2024

Category: UF/IFAS Extension, Water
Tags: Conservation, Extension, Sustainability, Water

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