Why is there always so much interest in Florida water management? One reason is that the water resources of Florida are unique or at least very unusual:
- More thunderstorms than any other state.
- More hurricanes.
- Second-most damaging hurricane (Andrew, exceeded only by Katrina).
- Greatest dependence on groundwater as a source of supply for drinking water.
- Most(?) groundwater of any state.
- Highest number of large springs.
- Only one Everglades.
- Highest percentage of state is wetlands (even after drainage).
- Highest number of National Estuary Program designations (Charlotte Harbor, Indian River Lagoon, Sarasota Bay, and Tampa Bay).
- Only state with a full regional system of multipurpose water management districts.
(Lake Okeechobee is very large in surface area but still is only the second-largest fresh water lake entirely within the lower 48. It is dwarfed in size by the Great Lakes, the Great Salt Lake of Utah, and Illiamna in Alaska.)
What are some other “Firsts” or “Mosts” for Florida water?
Governor Scott didn’t mention in his political campaign that he wanted to reduce the property taxes levied by the water management districts but his budget proposal released last week recommends that all five of them reduce their tax level by 25% for two years. No particular reason is given for a sudden reduction in their revenues, other than calling it a “holiday” for property taxes, and that it is always good to reduce taxes because that always improves economic prospects. This principle disregards that important water supply, water quality, and environmental restoration projects would be disrupted, or even harmed, if planned revenues suddenly vanish. You can’t restore the Everglades, or Lake Hancock, or the Upper St. Johns River, effectively or efficiently with wild budget swings. Perhaps even more importantly, the taxes that the water management districts have anticipated are for worthwhile projects, developed in many public forums, reviewed by Legislative committees, approved by the previous governor, and adopted by a governing board appointed by the state’s governor (and confirmed by the Florida Senate). Can one new elected governor have a better understanding of water management priorities than the hundreds (or thousands) of citizens, elected officials, and district staff who worked on district budgets over the last year?
The award has to be shared by many new toilets that use less water than old ones and work better. Working effectively is important because some old toilets have a reputation for not working well. New “WaterSense” toilets are certified to work by third-party testing (not conducted by the manufacturer) and use only 1.28 gallons per flush. (The two inexpensive WaterSense toilets I installed in my house work great.) More information is available when you check out toilets at your local big-box store or plumbing supplier. The real Oscar award would be for the Florida Legislature if they changed the Florida Building Code to require the use of the more efficient WaterSense toilets, as the states of California, Texas, and Georgia already have.
Climate management and water management are inseparably connected in Florida. What happens to Florida’s climate will have enormous impact on waters in Florids. It is odd, therefore, that interest in taking actions to minimize the magnitude of climate change seems to have fallen off the state’s political agenda. New Governor Rick Scott, for example, proposes to abolish the state’s Energy and Climate Commission.
It is not as if the warning signals of climate change are faint. Last year’s global temperatures tied with 2005 for the hottest on record. North of the equator, it was the hottest year ever. Of 22 long-term weather stations in Florida, 9 reported that last summer was the hottest ever. In 2010, the Atlantic Ocean saw the second-highest number of hurricanes ever. We in Florida paid little attention because-this year-little damage was done in this state. However, Florida historically has more hurricane landfalls than any other state-and will have many in the future.
More climate change effects are expected by scientific reports. Unless the emission of greenhouse gases is cut back dramatically, the U.S. Global Change Research Program forecasts that the southeastern United States will have summers in 2080 an average of 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today. Higher global temperatures will mean higher sea levels. In Florida, over 4,000 square miles are only 4.5 feet or less above sea level and therefore threatened by higher sea levels. A study from Tufts University found that $130 billion of residential land in Florida could be at risk from a rising sea level by 2060, along with half of the sandy beaches, 140 drinking water plants and hundreds of other facilities.
Shouldn’t Floridians be responding to these threats?
My new book about Florida water will be out in May 2011 and can be placed on preorder at Amazon: Florida’s Water: A Fragile Resource in a Vulnerable State.