U.S. Water News Online
WEST PALM BEACH -- The tap on the fragile Everglades
ecosystem has been clamped as officials warn cities across South
Florida to find other ways to quench the thirst of a growing
population, the state of Florida announced.
The new Regional Water Availability Rule prevents water users from
tapping the River of Grass for any new or additional water supplies
and means utilities will now be forced to develop alternative means
of production, according to the South Florida Water Management
It is the first time in history Everglades water has been deemed
South Florida water suppliers in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach
and Monroe counties currently depend on an estimated 500 million
gallons each day from the Everglades.
"The water that is being withdrawn today, that's it, we're capped
off," district director Carol Wehle said. "It sends a message to the
utilities that if you want to grow, there are many sources of water
that you can access that are environmentally sustainable."
Under the new rule, existing water supply permits will not be
revoked, but new permits for Everglades water to meet the needs of
population growth won't be approved. The rule also provides a grace
period to prevent water shortages but only if water suppliers can
show they are actively developing alternative techniques.
Wehle said utilities would have to begin reusing water on a larger
scale and may have to look at desalination techniques.
"The good news for southeast Florida, unlike, say, Las Vegas, is
there is an incredible amount of water available to continue to serve
future growth. It's just not going to be the Everglades," Wehle said.
The state is currently in the midst of a 30-year, $10.5 billion
effort to restore the Everglades, the largest such wetlands
restoration project in the world.
Curt Levine, head of the political committee for the Sierra Club's
Florida chapter, called the rule "a wake-up call to local
governments" to contain urban sprawl and better prepare for growth.
"Water is not infinite anymore," Levine said.
Miami-Dade County took a proactive step and agreed last year not
to seek additional water permits that would draw from the Everglades,
said Doug Yoder, deputy director of the county's wastewater
"What this rule does is formalize the system for everyone in South
Florida so all the utilities are on the same level playing field of
planning for future water supply demands," Yoder said.
He said the county was considering $2 billion worth of projects
over the next 20 years to create alternative water supplies.
"People will need to adjust to the idea that water rates and
wastewater rates are definitely going to go up," Yoder said, adding
that Miami-Dade plans to cut back on consumption through conservation
measures and to enhance reuse of wastewater.
Meanwhile, Florida is experiencing one of the driest spells on
record with the situation only expected to get worse.
"We have never experienced such a rapid depletion of our water
supply as we have this year," Wehle said.
The district last month instituted water restrictions for much of
South Florida that were intended to cut use by at least 15 percent.
But with the drought continuing, district officials are seeking more
cutbacks when its board meets April 12, hoping to achieve a 30
percent use reduction in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and up to
45 percent elsewhere.
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