Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Cold snap causes Florida’s water problems to resurface.
During January 2010’s 11-day cold snap, strawberry growers around Plant City near Tampa pumped millions of gallons of water out of the aquifer hoping that it would protect their crops. The pumping saved most of the strawberries but during the cold spell at least 85 sinkholes were reported and 700 private wells failed as the massive water withdrawals lowered the aquifer by 40-60 feet in the area around the strawberry fields.
Chaos reigned in the Plant City area as roads were shut down because of sinkholes, and 3 of 4 eastbound lanes of Interstate 4 were blocked by subsidence. An elementary school was closed due to a sinkhole and hundreds of people went without water as their pumps burned out and wells failed.
Strawberries picked in Hillsborough County are worth about $300 million dollars a year, but the consequences of destabilizing the aquifer are more difficult to calculate. Leaving aside the unknown tab for property damage and lost wells, preliminary estimates suggest local governments will be stuck with a bill for more than $2 million for repairing the roads.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) or Swiftmud as it is known, has scheduled a series of community meetings and appointed a panel to help their staff make recommendations to the District’s governing board.
Florida residents are growing confused by the mixed messages they get from water authorities. Asked to conserve water by curtailing lawn watering and using low flush toilets, they watch in amazement as strawberry growers and other agricultural interests pour millions of gallons of clean drinking water onto the ground to preserve their crops.
The state is water rich – Florida sits atop one of the world’s most prolific sources of groundwater. But there is no longer enough groundwater to meet all the state’s needs. With a population expected to increase by 25% to more than 21.8 million people by 2020, water demands are projected to increase by 26%. Every day more than 8.2 billion gallons of water are consumed to satisfy Florida’s needs. Agriculture uses 48% of this water, but public water use is projected to soon outpace agricultural demands.
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