U.S. Water News Online
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The fairways here are flecked,
the greens mottled brown. PGA National doesn't look like a marquee
golf course under the most severe water restrictions in South Florida
"We'll talk to people about it in the pro shop when they check in
and say, 'You might notice things are a little bit browner today.'"
said Joel Paige, managing director at the course.
South Florida is in an 18-month drought, and signs of the problem
are everywhere -- from the links to the nursery and sugar cane
Lake Okeechobee, the region's primary reservoir, is down to 9.3
feet above sea level -- less than half a foot above its record low.
Farmers and the area's 600 golf courses must use 45 percent less
water in the hardest-hit areas, and home sprinkler use is restricted
to once a week.
Other Southeastern states, like Georgia, are also experiencing
drought. Florida officials say theirs is comparable to one in 2001
that caused an estimated $400 million in agricultural losses.
"We can honestly say this is one of the most severe droughts that
we have dating back to when records started in the early 1900s," said
Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management
The $15 billion landscaping and nursery industries, which comprise
Florida's largest agricultural sector, may be the hardest hit. Most
growers are concentrated around Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach
counties on the rain-starved Atlantic Coast.
"We can make drought-tolerant and water-efficient plants, and we
can put the right plants in the right place, but we have yet to
figure out how to make it rain," said Ben Bolusky, executive vice
president of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association.
Growers are concerned that few people will buy the plants, not
that the plants won't survive, Bolusky said. He said residents are
inclined to postpone new yard installments if they don't think they
can water them. Many people don't realize they are allowed under the
restrictions to water new landscaping for a month, he said.
The cane sugar industry is also bracing for big losses. U.S. Sugar
Corp. spokeswoman Judy Sanchez said crops were already worse than the
2001 drought, which caused $100 million to $200 million in damages
around Lake Okeechobee. The company is the nation's leading producer
of cane sugar. A cold weather spell earlier this year didn't help
"We had probably three freeze spells in winter that knocked some
of the young cane back to the ground," Sanchez said. "It did not have
adequate water, so some of the cane that was frost-damaged has not
recovered its growth." Consumers may not see much change in sugar
prices because producers elsewhere could fill the void.
Florida's citrus industry could also be affected, but consumers
are unlikely to notice until next year. Much of the current harvest
is already picked, but the dry weather stresses blooming fruit, said
Mike Sparks, head of the grower's group Florida Citrus Mutual.
"When (the bloom) first came out, people said we're going to have
a real good crop next year," Sparks said. "Now there's a little more
concern in everyone's voice, how much of the crop is going to hold."
Voluntary water restrictions were recommended around the start of
this year, and mandatory limits came in March. Tighter clamps were
ordered in April, and recently the toughest restraints in history
took effect in some areas, limiting home watering and cutting
commercial use by almost half.
Golf courses are forced to spend most of their water on tees and
greens, neglecting fairways and other areas.
The new rules will shut off 2 million gallons of water monthly
from each of the two golf courses at Broken Sound Club in Boca Raton,
director of golf maintenance Joe Hubbard said.
The drought already has taken a toll. One course is 75 percent
brown, the other about 20 percent, Hubbard said. The club just hosted
a PGA Champion's Tour event in April.
Authorities hope the rainy season, which typically begins June 1,
will wash away the trouble, but the area is so dry that even an
average summer wouldn't break the drought.
"We've been getting little bits of rain here and there. Every drop
helps," Sanchez said. "We're watching the weather reports with an
avid interest every day."
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