Recognizing the value of water

Why is water such an important issue?

Surrounded on three sides by seawater, Florida also has thousands of freshwater lakes, springs, streams and rivers. Water connects and supports our economy, our environment and our quality of life.

Although it may appear that there is plenty of water to go around, not all of that water is available for drinking or other uses. Plus, our state’s weather can swing quickly between heavy rainfall and drought.

Plentiful water supplies keep our homes and businesses humming along, and nature has what it needs to grow and thrive. Without a dependable source of water, jobs and business incomes suffer, our natural resources struggle to survive, and water shortages can mean changes in our daily lives. Having enough water to meet all of our needs is key to our future.

Where does our water come from?

We depend on rainfall to fill our lakes, rivers and canals and to soak down into our underground reservoirs, or aquifers (typically layers of sand, gravel and rock). While Florida generally receives 50 to 55 inches of rainfall each year, not all of the rain reaches the aquifer below.

About 37 inches evaporates back into the air or runs off the land into ponds, lakes or rivers. Some of the runoff water eventually drains to the ocean or bays. That leaves only about 13 inches of the total amount of rainfall that can slowly seep into the ground and “recharge” the aquifer.

What is the primary source of water for Central Florida?

Here in the central part of the state, the Floridan aquifer system is the main source of stored freshwater. This particular aquifer is mostly made up of limestone – a natural rock formation full of holes and cracks that act like a sponge to absorb and hold water.
A protective layer of clay sits above the aquifer and helps protect the water from contamination. Throughout our area, the quality of water in the aquifer is excellent.

In some locations, underground water pressure causes the water in the aquifer to rise up on its own, forming springs and free flowing wells. However, most water stays trapped underground and wells must be drilled to pump out water from the aquifer.

Uses and sources

Who uses the water?

In Central Florida, water pumped from the Floridan aquifer serves about 2.7 million residents and also supports a large tourist industry, major farming operations, and a growing business community. The population in some areas is projected to increase by almost 50 percent by the year 2035.

The good news is that, as the Central Florida population increased by more than 1 million over the past 15 years, the overall water use has basically stayed the same. Much of that is due to good water conservation and more efficient practices, including the use of reclaimed, or recycled, water. To help meet the projected increase in future demands, those positive efforts, along with other actions, must really be stepped up.

Looking ahead, other alternatives (such as expanding the use of reclaimed water) must be considered to ensure enough water is available for all needs.

What happens if we rely too much on one source?

Pumping too much groundwater from the aquifer changes the water pressure, which, in turn, draws water down from the land surface and draws salt water up (from even deeper aquifers) into the freshwater “zones” now tapped for our supplies.

This action can result in negative impacts both above and below ground: drying out valuable wetlands, reducing spring flows, lowering area lake levels, and turning previously freshwater sources to brackish (a mix of fresh and salt that requires more expensive processing) or completely salty and no longer useable.

Recognizing the need to look into other sources and options for the future, water supply planning helps us identify just how much water is needed in the next 20 years and how long we can expect to rely on the Floridan aquifer.

What are the benefits of regional water supply planning?

Florida’s five regional water management districts develop water supply plans to identify needs and recommend strategies for meeting future water demands of urban and agricultural uses, as well as the environment.

This process highlights areas where current sources of water will not be able to continue meeting future demands, and evaluates several water source options — including water conservation — to meet those demands. Required by state law, the plans are based on a 20-year outlook and must be updated every five years.

Each plan includes water use estimates and projections, an evaluation of existing sources, a discussion of issues and concerns, and recommendations.

A coordinated approach

What is the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI)?

The goal of the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) is to protect, conserve and restore water resources in a 5,300 square-mile area. The planning region includes Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Polk and southern Lake counties — the counties where three water management districts have shared jurisdiction.

It is a joint effort by the water management districts (Southwest, St. Johns and South Florida), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to work closely with water utilities, environmental groups, business organizations, agricultural communities and other stakeholders to recognize and address the water needs of the future.

Why is there a need for coordination?

To better serve citizens and businesses, the State of Florida is committed to simplifying processes where possible. In response, the water management districts have already worked with the FDEP to make changes in some permitting rules. These changes ensure the rules are consistent and applied fairly.

That same concept is being used for the CFWI. Because the boundaries of three separate water management districts meet in Central Florida, the decision to pump water from the groundwater aquifer in one area can have impacts in another. Today, the districts are working together with other governments and stakeholders to identify and apply a more coordinated approach to protecting the resource.

What are the key challenges in the CFWI region?

Acknowledging that we will ultimately reach the maximum limits on groundwater pumping, the key challenges include: how to meet future water demands, how to manage impacts to the area’s water resources, and how to improve overlapping programs among the three water management districts.

What are the major issues? Will there be enough water in the future?

Today, the current average total water use is about 800 million gallons per day (mgd). It is estimated that the CFWI planning area will need approximately 300 mgd of additional water supplies by the year 2035.

About 50 mgd of additional fresh groundwater can be made available through management strategies such as changes to wellfield operations and increases in aquifer recharge. The remaining 250 mgd will have to be met through expanded water conservation and other alternative sources.

A draft plan of action

How does the draft CFWI Regional Water Supply Plan address the challenges?

To help guide Central Florida’s water future, the area’s first draft multi-district regional water supply plan was completed in 2014. The draft document identifies water source options and potential projects to meet the expected increase in demands. Implementing the projects will require both local and regional actions. The draft plan is available online at cfwiwater.com.

A total of 150 potential projects — more than enough to meet the region’s needed 250 mgd increase — were identified through the plan development process.

The reality of future water supply concerns is not new. What is different now?

Several key items have been developed during the past two years to help us better understand and manage our long-term water resources. These include: a comprehensive groundwater model (a computer program that incorporates information on the CFWI region), a detailed evaluation of the springs, lakes and wetlands in the region, and the development of “measuring sticks” to compare them consistently.

In addition, a “solutions” team was formed to further investigate and recommend projects based on the draft Regional Water Supply Plan. Detailed evaluations were conducted on sixteen options. Based on that effort, a draft “2035 Water Resources Protection and Water Supply Strategies Plan” will be available for public review and comment in May 2015.

Where does reclaimed water fit into the picture?

Water reuse has been, and will continue to be, an important piece of the puzzle. Using water once and disposing of it is a wasteful practice when that water can be processed and “recycled” for another use.

Highly treated reclaimed water can be safely and effectively used to water lawns and golf courses, to support crop irrigation, to serve as cooling water for industries, to flush toilets, to recharge ground water, and for environmental restoration.

While Central Florida has been a leader in the use of reclaimed water, some areas still use fresh, high-quality drinking water on lawns and landscapes. There is still more that can be developed for beneficial uses. The more we can reuse, the less we need to pump and treat from other sources.

What are other alternative water sources?

In addition to reclaimed water, other alternative sources identified in the draft Water Supply Plan to help meet future needs include:

  • Brackish groundwater
  • Storm water
  • Surface water

Water conservation and public involvement

How important is conservation in stretching our supplies?

Conservation is the least expensive way to help meet a portion of our future needs. Already proven to be an effective strategy, it is estimated that additional conservation could produce approximately 37 mgd as a starting point in future water savings.

Most utilities promote easy-to-follow conservation practices to encourage customers to participate. More efficient irrigation systems and advances in technology have also helped farmers reduce water demands over the past several years.

How can you help?

Achieving long-term water use reductions requires a combination of new technology, best business and management practices and behavior changes. Conservation is the best way to extend the life of our water supply, so it is important to practice conservation and do what is needed to encourage it.

Around your home you can save water, and money, by:

  • Installing low-flow toilets and showerheads and fixing leaky faucets and toilets
  • Setting clothes washers for the appropriate-sized load and using water-efficient machines

Saving water outdoors can have a major impact on extending our water supply.

  • Follow the year-round watering limits and consider waterwise landscaping for your yard.
  • You can have a beautiful landscape that conserves water by selecting the right plant for the right place, reducing large areas of irrigated grass, preserving existing vegetation and increasing the areas of shade in your landscape.
  • If you have properly designed your landscape, chosen the proper plants and planted them correctly you will have a reduced need for irrigation.
How else can you get involved?

We need your involvement and support to make sure the regional planning process is a success. Several public workshops and presentations have been held since 2012 and will continue in 2015 to inform and engage the public and interested stakeholders.

Comments on the CFWI draft documents are welcome and encouraged. A dedicated website — cfwiwater.com — is the best source for more information.

Putting the pieces together

What are the next major steps?

After taking in all of the public comments, the draft Regional Water Supply Plan and the draft 2035 Water Resources Protection and Water Supply Strategies Plan will be presented together in the fall for consideration by the CFWI Steering Committee. Representing a cross-section of Central Florida’s water supply partners, this group is charged with overseeing the coordinated process.

The documents will then be presented to the governing boards of the three water management districts for approval.

Bottom line: Continued support will be needed to turn the plans into action

The future water demands of the CFWI Planning Area can be met through 2035 with appropriate management, the broadening of water sources, increased conservation, and alternative projects identified in the plan.

Implementing the projects and other measures will require commitment and actions from all levels of government and all variety of stakeholders, including the public. To help with project construction, all three water management districts provide cost-share funding opportunities (subject to annual budget approvals) for local projects that help protect and stretch water resources.