South Florida to Water Only Once a Week

For the first time in the agency's history, the South Florida Water Management District of West Palm Beach recently declared an extreme districtwide water shortage, directly affecting more than five million South Florida residents and thousands of farms and businesses.

At its monthly meeting, the district's nine-member governing board adopted a groundbreaking water shortage order, instituting a one-day-a-week watering schedule for residential landscape irrigation to conserve water supplies. Landscape irrigation accounts for up to half of all household water consumption in Florida and totals more than seven billion gallons per day nationwide.

The modified phase III water shortage order will be enforced beginning January 15, 2008.

The new, mandatory restrictions apply to all water from traditional sources, including water from public utilities, private wells, canals, ponds and lakes. Users of 100-percent reclaimed water are exempt from the restrictions but are encouraged to conserve water voluntarily.

Implementing water use restrictions already has proved effective during the continued regional water shortage. Based on data reported by 46 public water utilities in Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Collier, Lee and Miami-Dade counties, an estimated 11.7 billion gallons of potable water was saved since March 22, when restrictions first went into effect, through June 30. Savings were most pronounced on non-watering days. For example, one day per week landscape irrigation restrictions instituted in Broward and Palm Beach counties saved an estimated 130 million gallons a day of potable water.

Surface water and groundwater levels across much of the District remain unseasonably low and already are showing signs of decline with the start of the dry season in November. The water level in Lake Okeechobee, the source of water for the Florida Everglades and the primary back-up water supply for five million South Floridians, is at its lowest elevation ever recorded for the month of December. At 10.16 feet above sea level this morning, the lake level already is so low that water from the lake cannot be used to replenish the regional supply. Even with average dry season rainfall, water managers expect the lake level to drop over the coming months below its all-time low of 8.82 feet above sea level, recorded on July 2, 2007.

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