Fresh Water: Florida's Increasingly Scarce Resource

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Fresh water is something that is generally not thought about, or at the very least taken for granted, by the typical Florida resident.  But where does Florida's fresh water actually come from?  Well, the answer to this question is that most of Florida's fresh water comes from either the underground aquifer or the St. Johns River, both of which are absolutely crucial and vital to Florida's overall environment and ecosystems.  The fresh water in Florida's underground aquifer is what boils up from under the ground to create perhaps what is Florida's most unique natural features- the crystal clear turquoise and shimmering "springs," (one of which is in the photo to the right).  These springs are not only crucial ecosystems and habitats for Florida wildlife, but also a favorite recreational and social activity for Florida's human residents.  The aquifers that these springs boil up from are actually underground caves or caverns, which historically have been filled with some of the cleanest, freshest water to be found anywhere on the planet.  This fresh water in these underground caverns flows like an underground river, then boils up out of the ground at the spring and mostly flows into the St. Johns River.  The water found in this aquifer originates as falling rain, which then percolates through several layers of different types of soil which filter out almost all of the pollutants naturally before this rain water ever reaches the underground caverns of the aquifer.  This is why this fresh water is of such great value.  After all, clean fresh water is the very most important necessity that is needed for sustaining human life.

In Florida an excessive amount of fresh water is used by residents for things that could be considered non-necessary for survival such as watering lawns.  Floridians have historically been obsessed with their well-manicured Bermuda Grass lawns, which by the way is one of the grasses that requires the most watering and overall maintenance.  But what happens if excessive amounts of water begin to be extracted from the underground aquifer?  What happens is this- the pressure of the water inside of these caverns under the ground is what keeps them from collapsing.  The vast majority of developed and built land for human habitation in the state of Florida sits over and on top of these underground water-filled caverns called the aquifer.  If too much water is extracted from the aquifer, this causes these underground caverns to collapse from the weight and pressure of the land and built environment above them.  This phenomenon is also known as a "sinkhole."  Florida has seen some monstrous and disastrous sinkholes in the past that have swallowed many homes and businesses, and this problem can only be expected to get worse as more and more water is extracted from the aquifer.  This is not even to mention the negative effects on the environment and ecosystems of Florida due to less water flowing from the springheads.

Basically, Florida's existing fresh water sources for it's residents are well beyond maxed out at this point.  On top of this fact, the population of the state is generally on average increasing by the day.  If that wasn't enough stress on Florida's fresh water, guess what- there is also multi-national corporations that want to extract even more water from those sources for for-profit business such as the selling of bottled water.  This situation is all actually quite more serious than those corporations or Florida's residents seem to realize.  What if there is a serious drought?  What if the state of Florida just plain runs out of fresh water?  Then what?

One option that is already in place and functioning in the state is what is called desalination, or the removal of "salt" from "salt water," or in other words turning sea water into fresh water with the use of a "desalination plant."  This is an effective method of producing more fresh water for the state, however it is also a very expensive method.  If a single resident of Florida was completely dependant on desalinized water from a desalination plant, it would mean he/she will be paying 4 to 5 times more for his/her water bill than for water coming from traditional sources.

So is there any other solutions to this problem of dwindling fresh water in Florida?  The answer is yes, and a lot of this answer lies in New Urbanist planning and development techniques and methods.  With compact walkable New Urbanist community development, minimal amounts of the land that the rain falls on and percolates down to the aquifer through will be covered with impermeable human-made structures such as buildings and roads.  With today's knowledge and technology, we can also plan these compact walkable communities to be built on tracts of land where the underground aquifer will be least affected, or where the least amount of water naturally enters the aquifer.  Rather than controlling water "runoff" from streets and sidewalks with traditional gutters and swales to underground sewer lines that flow directly into rivers and streams, swales planted with indigenous grasses and plant species can be used instead, which then provides natural habitat as well as allows the water "runoff" to get naturally filtered, percolate through the soil, and end up in the aquifer where it belongs.  More permeable materials such as gravel can be used for roads, parking lots, and sidewalks, which also allows the water to percolate through the soil and into the aquifer rather than becoming "runoff" in the first place.   The use of native landscaping with indigenous plant species, rather than exotic grasses and ornamental plants that require excessive watering is another very effective method of less water usage per household.  Most of the rest is left up to individual responsibilty, and not doing things such as leaving faucets and hoses running for extended periods of time.  All of these are viable options for the wiser use of Florida's most important resource: fresh water.

 And of course this fresh water problem does not only apply to the state of Florida, or the country of the United States for that matter.  Where does your fresh water come from?

Also see my Blog titled Farmton, FL: A New Opportunity To Prove What Can Be Accomplished For the Environment Through New Urbanism/Regional Planning by clicking on Dylan's Blog below.

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