Drought Conditions Deepen Across Central Florida

Burn ban sign posted along S.R. A1A in Flagler County, FL, due to drought conditions
How dry is it around Florida? Burn ban signs like this one seen along S.R. A1A in Flagler County are common.
Photo by Paul Rusnak

Despite a front that brought minimal amounts of rain over the weekend, the Sunshine State’s record-setting dry season continues to rage on. And with nothing currently showing on the radar by way of precipitation, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) Governing Board has approved expanding its current Water Shortage Warning Order to include all areas within the district’s 18-county jurisdiction.

According to the SJRWMD, the purpose of the Order is to encourage conservation practices among residential and commercial users.

Recent rainfall totals and short-term trends solidified SJRWMD’s decision to expand the order.

  • The counties with the least rainfall were Orange, Brevard, Osceola, and Okeechobee counties, which each received less than one inch during May so far.
  • Highest rainfalls occurred in Clay, with 3.08 inches, St. Johns, with 3.11 inches, Alachua County with 3.95 inches.
  • Southern Duval and Baker counties also received above-average rainfall, with 2.77 inches and 3.41 inches, respectively.
April 2017 rainfall map for St. Johns River Water Management District in Central Florida
Graphic courtesy of the St. Johns River Water Management District

In April, the City of Orlando received no measurable rainfall, an extremely rare occurrence.

Liz Felter, Orange County UF/IFAS Commercial Horticulture Agent, says the lack of rain, combined with the high temperatures, has made this growing season very challenging. “Farmers are using supplemental irrigation. They are diligently monitoring their irrigation systems to insure they are working properly for maximum efficiency.”

What kind of impact is the current drought having on your farm?

  • Significant (77%, 54 Votes)
  • Some (13%, 9 Votes)
  • None (10%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 70

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In addition, burn bans continue for all District-owned properties due to the extreme dry conditions. Numerous brush fires are still ablaze across the state.

According to Joe Walter, UF/IFAS Brevard County Extension Agent, this dry season is definitely one for the ages. “It’s the driest I’ve ever seen it; even worse than 1998, and that was the bad one.”

Walter estimated the water table in his area to be running about 8 feet below normal. “It’s not a good place to be right now.”

On a related note, USDA recently designated eight counties in Florida as primary natural disaster areas due to losses caused by a recent drought. Those counties include: Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee, Osceola, and Polk.

In addition, farmers in the following counties also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous. Those counties include: Brevard, Hendry, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Orange, Palm Beach, Pasco, Sarasota, St. Lucie, and Sumter.

Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration (in this case, May 10) to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. Contact your local Farm Service Agency office for more information.

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