Wise To Water Farming

When resources are tight, it takes ingenuity to find successful solutions to problems. The declining levels of the Floridan aquifer and the recession have growers in the Indian River area considering an innovative idea — water farming.

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The water farming concept is fairly simple. Landowners with idle land hold water in shallow reservoirs rather than water being discharged into the Indian River Lagoon. The stored water could then used by counties, municipalities, environmental needs, and agriculture.
According to Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, the concept of water farming comes at a time when Florida is at a crossroads. Bournique serves on the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) board, which has voted that new demands for water must come from a “diversification” of sources.

“What that vote means is no more deep wells into the Floridan aquifer,” he says. “We are approaching the sustainable levels of withdrawal beyond which we would expect to see adverse impacts on the aquifer and the multiple springs in the region.”
With no more expansion into the aquifer, cities in Volusia County are scrambling to find new sources of water. Reverse osmosis and desalination plants are extremely expensive and not viable options in a slumping economy.

Win-Win-Win

“Here on the East Coast of Florida, we are discharging hundreds of millions of gallons of water to tide from our old canal system,” says Bournique. “We can store some of that water on ag land that is sitting fallow due to citrus diseases or low cattle prices. Municipalities need inexpensive water, and this water could be supplied at much lower costs than reverse osmosis or desalination. And, at the same time, it would provide landowners with supplemental income on idle land.”
Bournique says water farming is one of those rare examples where all parties involved benefit. “When it rains, all of this water discharges into the Indian River Lagoon and it just turns brown,” he says. “We can hold that water back with water farming, which is a win for the environment. At the same time, it is a win for landowners and municipalities. It is a cool idea that’s time has come.”

“We are moving down the road and meeting with engineers and landowners to determine the sites for the pilots,” says Bournique. “I believe this will happen pretty quickly and there is a lot of interest among our growers.”
While compensation to water farmers is yet to be determined, contracts on multiple-year terms at several hundred dollars per acre per year might be in the offing.

Go With The Flow