Water, water everywhere?

JurisdictionUnited States
AuthorHervic, Joelle
Date01 December 2002

Florida's once seemingly inexhaustible water resources are being compromised and diminished as a result of increased demand, and a lack of formalized coordination and planning between planning authorities and water management districts. Florida's replumbing efforts, in the form of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), are insufficient on their own to address the threat to water and the environment, which ultimately threatens the habitability of Florida. This article will identify some of the problems and obstacles to achieving a healthy environment in Florida, particularly as they relate to water resources, and will examine the existing legislative and regulatory framework applicable to water resources and water delivery, and proposals that have been put forward to address Florida's future development and water management.

There is a notable lack of a coherent, visionary, and enforceable water plan in Florida that sets limits and protects Florida's water resources. Currently, Florida's "plan" is a patchwork quilt of policy statements that are exhortative only, rather than enforceable provisions. Since the enactment of The Florida Water Resources Act, (1) Florida's emphasis on regulation, as opposed to planning, has significantly contributed to Florida's water woes. A proposal to link planning and water resources management, together with a recommendation to enhance cooperation between local government and water management districts under the oversight of the state, will be discussed. (2) Although the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has recently issued a new report, the Florida Water Conservation Initiative Report, containing proposals to conserve water, critics have observed that these measures, even if implemented, would preserve the existing easy and free access to water by the biggest users, principally agriculture, rather than implementing measures to preserve an already overtapped resource. (3)

Postcard From Florida

Picture this: You sit in your deck chair in your backyard, watching the sun glisten on the canal as the palm trees gently sway in the wind while you sip your iced tea. This apparently idyllic scene belies the fact that, right now, the view from Florida is far from picture perfect: There is a good chance that the canal you are gazing at is manmade; the water is contaminated and at lower levels than when you bought your house only a few years before. As you continue to soak up the sun, enjoying the scene and the sun's warmth, millions of your fellow Floridians at the same time are irrigating their gardens and farms, washing their cars and sidewalks, and flushing their toilets without giving a second thought to the water supply, while fully expecting that it will always be available--clean, abundant, and on tap.

They are sadly mistaken. The following is a snapshot of the true state of affairs in Florida which is one of the thirstiest states in the country: "More water is withdrawn and used in Florida than in any other state east of the Mississippi River." (4) "Water use is forecast to increase 30 percent from 7.2 billion gallons per day (BGD) in 1995 to 9.3 billion in 2020." (5) Florida has the highest per capita water consumption in the world, with on average 171 gallons of water being consumed per day. (6) Groundwater withdrawals account for 62 percent of Florida's water use. (7) Inefficient and inappropriate use of groundwater, particularly by agriculture, (8) and a rising per capita water consumption are responsible for the steep rise in water usage that we have witnessed over the past several decades. Levels of groundwater used by agriculture stood at 52 percent in 1995 with DEP stating that "actual agricultural water use is projected to increase from 3.7 BGD in 1995 to 4.1 BGD in 2020." (9) Aside from the nominal cost of permits, water is free in Florida. (10)

The business of making future population projections is extremely speculative. For instance, in the DEP's Public Review Draft of the Florida Water Conservation Initiative, released in November 2001, a projection was made that by 2020, Florida's population would increase from 16 million to approximately 20.4 million. (11) Based on those figures, DEP projected that there would be an average water use of about 9.3 BGD in 2020. (12) DEP's population projection seems to have been based on a trend that may have appeared to signal a decrease in the...

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