BROOKSVILLE, Fla. -- The Southwest Florida Water Management District, headquartered in Brooksville, found that rough estimates on water usage by its large irrigation users just weren't adequate. Instead, accurate data was needed to monitor water supplies and ensure that water from underground aquifers was not overdrawn.
Florida is divided into five water management districts that manage water resources and environmental concerns in their respective geographical area. Some of the largest water users in the Southwest district are from the agricultural industry. Like most of the inland areas of Florida, the Southwest region is heavily planted in citrus and row crops, with tomatoes being the largest cash crop. The other row crops, like strawberries, peppers, squash, cabbage, and potatoes, also need large amounts of water to thrive.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District's main function is to issue permits for the use of groundwater and surface water and to monitor water use. In addition, the districts perform flood control, and coordinate with the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection to deal with water-related environmental issues.
"A big portion of our job is to manage the existing water resources in our district, to do analysis to determine that we are not overusing the resource, and to make sure that water is equally distributed," said Scott McGookey, Staff Water Conservation Analyst for the district. "We look at the available resources, where farmers want to drill the well, water quality in the area, and the impacts that might occur because of that use."
Within the district there are "water use caution areas" where in the past it was possible to draw too much water from underground water supplies. Some of the lakes and streams were also stressed, therefore it was extremely imperative to start sophisticated water use monitoring. Inaccurate estimates based on permitted quantities were no longer acceptable.
In response, the district's governing board authorized the expenditure of funds to meter large agricultural users as a way to monitor usage. Under a plan called the Agricultural Metering Program, the district identified all of the users permitted for over 500,000 gallons per day. Since the pumping data was of absolute importance to the district, they decided to purchase meters for the farmers and to install them.
When the Water Management District finally decided to initiate the installation of water flow meters, they put out a bid to find the best meters at the most competitive cost. They decided that Water Specialties' meters met the District's requirements at the lowest cost.
Water Specialties, of Porterville, Calif., has been in business for over 25 years manufacturing and marketing water flow meters and other water measurement transmitters and controls for a variety of applications including irrigation, water treatment, water production, and wastewater.
The district decided to purchase 1,241 meters. They were then installed on 1,232 water withdrawal points( two meters on some locations), with 98 percent of them used for groundwater monitoring.
"Our hydrologists and engineers can now analyze and model the information that the meters deliver to us," McGookey said. "For example, we have monitoring wells and existing user wells in the area. We look at static levels and keep monthly information. We also require some users to send us water quality sample data to monitor saltwater intrusion, and to see if lesser quality water enters our good zones." We then compile that information and track the condition of the aquifers and the different zones."
"Metering has provided us with a massive amount of information that we needed to input into our groundwater models and to more accurately estimate how much water is being used and where it is used the most
"We can now pay close attention to water use "caution areas" that may have a problem, so that we do not over stress the groundwater resource," McGookey said. "In these areas, we've stopped issuing new permits, and existing users have cut back on water use."
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