Recently, the South Florida Water Management District issued a water usage warning affecting all 8.1 million people who inhabit the area spanning from Orlando to Key West. The warning comes after an unusually dry season which is expected to last through June 1. More austere restrictions may follow if the dryness continues.
This dry season began around Nov. 1, leaving South Florida significantly more dry than previous years. During winter, the area only received 44 percent of its normal seasonal rainfall, about 6.75 inches less than the average. Temperatures are expected to rise as well, with forecasters projecting a 40 to 50 percent chance of temperatures above normal for the next three months.
Still, the warning is not meant to alarm residents, rather make them aware. Those who live in the area are asked to be mindful of their water usage this season and try to conserve it as much as possible.
“The purpose of this warning is to urge South Florida families to voluntarily conserve more water,” said Dan O’Keefe, chairman of the South Florida Water Management District governing board. “This effort will help your water supply last through the remainder of the dry season.”
In order to most effectively comply with the warning, residents may visit sfwmd.gov to find the seasonal and year-round water restrictions for all 16 counties in the district. Compliance with current county water restrictions is being heavily enforced— in certain areas, like Broward, violators may incur a fine of up to $250.
“We are asking residents to take it pretty seriously,” said Pete Kwiatkowski, water shortage manager.
According to Kwiatkowski, the last time the South Florida Water District issued a water warning was in 2011.
As of now, the dry spell has resulted in significant consequences for Florida. According to the most recent drought data collected by CBS 4, about 34 percent of the state is suffering from severe drought conditions.
Other natural effects include decreased water levels in Florida’s back-up water supply, Lake Okeechobee, whose current 12 foot water level is one foot below the average for this time of year.
Additionally, wildfires that flared up due to the dry conditions caused Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency. Florida wildfires have already caused the loss of 250 percent more acreage of land in the past three months than has been seen during the same time in previous years, leading the water department to temporarily ban open burning on their lands, including those for recreational use in Hendry, Glades, Okeechobee, Osceola and Polk counties.
Residential cooperation from now into the foreseeable future has been deemed crucial in determining the extent of the drought conditions and water restrictions.
Alan Garcia, director of Broward County Water and Wastewater Services, states: “This is the dry time, and we do need to conserve water.”