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South Florida has experienced significant development in the last decade which has put pressure on our amount of available water in our aquafirs that are used for irrigation and drinking. Approximately 50% of the water that is consumed is for irrigation. In addition, we have had lower rainfall amounts than normal over the last few years. The result has been chronic water shortages to various degrees.
Download a great guide with some water saving tips here.
Most people are unaware that Palm Beach was three weeks away from running out of fresh water earlier this summer! It is critical for the future of our communities, that we design "smarter" landscapes which use less turf , grouping and using plants that require less water, and using more efficient irrigation systems such as drip.
With the drought now so severe that West Palm Beach no longer has a source of surface water, officials have had to open links to county mains to supply one-third of the city utility's needs -- as much as 10 million gallons a day.
Meanwhile, to cut water use, the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District imposed an emergency order, to take effect Monday, restricting lawn watering to once a week in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach. All three municipalities are served by the West Palm water utility.
Surface supplies are West Palm's main source of drinking water.
But water levels in Lake Okeechobee, the city's main source of surface water, are so low that the lake can no longer feed the L8 canal, the starting point of the 40-mile journey the city's water travels from the lake to the Grassy Waters Preserve, the city's water catchment area.
The city is seeking alternative sources of water, including drawing from nearby well fields and getting an emergency permit from the Department of Environmental Protection to pull water from a reservoir at the foot of the L8 canal.
"Levels have dropped so significantly that there is no water going into the canal," said Terrie Bates, the director for water resources at the South Florida Water Management District. "They have no source. They are living off the supply they have in Grassy Waters."
Palm Beach County on Wednesday began providing West Palm Beach with roughly one-third of the water it needs to serve its utility customers, County Water Utility Director Bevin Beaudet said. Beaudet said the county will continue pumping between 8 million and 10 million gallons of water a day into the city's pipeline for the foreseeable future.
However, the amount of water the city can receive is limited by the size of the pipes, said David Hanks, the city's Utilities director. The city is also pumping about 15-16 million gallons of water a day from its own well fields.
The city will pay the county $1.36 for every 1,000 gallons of water it uses, Beaudet said. The city's reserve fund will pay for the water, meaning West Palm Beach water customers will not see an increase in their bills.
West Palm Beach is the only water utility in south Florida that relies on surface water -- rather than ground water -- for its main supply. That makes the city more vulnerable during droughts.
"In the long term we don't have enough connections where this could go on forever and ever," Hanks said. But he estimated the city could go 5-6 months using county water and the well field.
For now, the county's groundwater supply is "holding up" and is not in jeopardy. But if the drought continues, Beaudet said other utilities across South Florida may also be facing serious water shortages.
"If it doesn't start raining here pretty soon, within this month, there are going to be a lot of utilities all over south Florida that are going to be in very critical situations," he said. "I usually chuckle at all the gloom and doom, but this is the first time in my career in Southeast Florida, since 1984, that I am starting to be concerned."