South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) meteorologists report that appreciable rain is beginning to fall over portions of the district, with southwestern through north-central portions of the South Florida region benefiting most. These rains continued through this past weekend, becoming more heavy and widespread early this week and potentially signaling the beginning of the 2009 wet season.
Despite the pending start of the wet season, South Florida remains in the midst of a regional water shortage. The period from November 2008 through April 2009 ranks as the driest six-month period in South Florida history based on records dating back to 1932. Persistent rainfall is needed to begin to make up for a rainfall deficit of more than 11 inches. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report shows that most of the region is experiencing extreme drought conditions, just below the driest and highest level of the monitor’s intensity scale.
Groundwater levels throughout much of the region have dropped to within the lowest 10% of their historical range, with some monitoring wells reaching all-time lows. The primary regional storage systems — the Water Conservation Areas and Lake Okeechobee — also continue to decline. At 10.63 feet, the lake is nearly 2.8 feet below its historic average for this time of year.
In response to the continued dry conditions, the SFWMD Governing Board on Thursday approved new emergency water shortage orders:
Lake Okeechobee Service Area and Southern Indian Prairie Basin: Imposes Modified Phase III restrictions that require a 45% reduction in water use for agriculture, nurseries, and golf courses that draw irrigation water from Lake Okeechobee or surface waters hydraulically connected to Lake Okeechobee. The order affects users within portions of Okeechobee, Glades, Palm Beach, Lee, Hendry, Martin, and St. Lucie counties.
Palm Beach and Broward Counties: Halts surface water withdrawals by diversion and impoundment permit holders and specified agricultural permit holders from Water Conservation Areas 1 and 2 and regional canals.
West Palm Beach: Provides several water supply relief options for the City of West Palm Beach.
The orders took effect on Monday, May 18.
A majority of the District remains under two-day-a-week landscape watering restrictions. In recent weeks, emergency orders — which the SFWMD Governing Board concurred with last Thursday — were issued to create more stringent water use restrictions in specific areas that warrant additional resource protection. SFWMD enforcement staff has reviewed the current restrictions with local enforcement officials at recent workshops in Okeechobee, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Martin and Monroe counties.
A burn ban is also in place on District-managed public lands to protect lives, property and the environment amid the drought. The ban means no fires in grills, fireplaces or fire rings provided by the District or other authorized management agencies until further notice. The use of portable camp stoves and grills, brought in by users for cooking purposes only, is allowed.