Is the Water Supply in Florida Headed for Deep Trouble?
Water — too much, too little and its quality is never far from the farmer’s mind. It is the most important determining factor in a crop’s success. With more than 1,000 people moving into Florida every day, the question of adequate availability of water to support agriculture and urban development will grow in importance with every passing year.
To get a better handle on the question, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), UF GeoPlan Center, and 1,000 Friends of Florida sponsored a study called “Water 2070 Mapping Florida’s Future — Alternative Patterns of Water Use in 2070.”
The study looked at a 2010 baseline from the U.S. Geological Survey of per capita gallons per day (GPD) demand for each Florida county in the area of urban-development related usage. Agricultural irrigation demand for the baseline was determined from data prepared for FDACS. Then a Water 2070 Trend was developed based on the addition of 15 million new residents, assuming 2010 development patterns continue. A Water 2070 Alternative assumed 15 million new residents with more compact development patterns and increased protected lands with no development of irrigated agricultural lands.
Both future predictions of water demand puts Florida’s daily usage at jaw-dropping levels as the state’s population is projected to grow to 33.7 million people by 2070. The 2070 Trend reveals the most water usage at slightly more than 8 trillion GPD. That is driven by a combination of population growth and increased development-related irrigation, which drives usage up by more than 100% of the 2010 baseline. The Alternative 2070 would put development-related usage 50% higher than the 2010 baseline. The total water usage under the alternative approach would be just less than 7 trillion gallons per day.
Agricultural water use under the 2070 Trend model puts demand at 24% less than the 2010 baseline due to agricultural lands lost to development. Under the 2070 Alternative Trend, water demand for agriculture would be slightly greater than the 2010 baseline because of less urban development.
The study further noted that both 2070 scenarios put too great a strain on the state’s water resources. As a summary stated: “Given existing water shortages in some areas of the state, the 54% increase in total demand from 2010 to the 2070 Trend, and even the 30% increase from 2010 to 2070 Alternative, are clearly not sustainable. Modest water conservation of 20% and a modest increase in in development density are not sufficient.”
The study suggests the state must go beyond the steps laid out by the 2070 Water Alternative approach by promoting even more compact development and increasing water conservation efforts if it ever hopes to accommodate 15 million more residents and maintain agricultural productivity by 2070.
Central and South Florida Shows Highest Demand
According to the report, the central and southern parts of Florida will face the largest demands on water resources. Central Florida comes in with highest usage under all scenarios because population growth is predicted to be highest in the region and urban, sprawling development the greatest. The 2010 baseline for the region is just slightly more than 2 trillion GPD. The 2070 Trend pushes usage to more than 3 trillion GPD and the 2070 Alternative comes in at just more than 2.5 trillion GPD.
South Florida is the only region in which the baseline scenario has a higher agricultural demand than development demand. This is attributable to the large acreage in the region under irrigation, which includes the Everglades Agricultural Area. While the 2070 Trend shows development demand outstripping that of agriculture, the Alternative Trend shows demand for agricultural water growing beyond the 2010 baseline.
A Look at Two Approaches
While one future paths looks at following current trends and the other considers more conservation, both paths are not sustainable as the state barrels toward nearly 34 million residents and water demand grows.
• Water 2070 Trend is based on the addition of 15 million new residents, assuming 2010 development patterns continue.
• Using the same baseline per capita gallons per day (GPD) demand for each Florida county and the assumption that suburban/rural census block groups use more water than urban census block groups, each county’s water demand quantity is increased to reflect its population increase and the spatial distribution of that population.
• Agricultural lands are lost to development, but the same per acre irrigation demand is assumed resulting in a decrease in agricultural demand.
• In Water 2070 Alternative, the projected 15 million new residents are accommodated with more compact development patterns and increased protected lands.
• Per capita rates of development-related water demand for each county are conservatively reduced by 20% to capture the potential impact of water conservation measures.
• Agriculture irrigation demand is based on data from a study prepared for the FDACS, which estimates water demand for crops, livestock, and aquaculture in 2035. No irrigated lands identified in this study were allowed to develop under this scenario.
The report suggests the single most effective strategy to reduce water demand is to significantly reduce the amount of water used for landscape irrigation. According to Florida-Friendly Landscaping, at least 50% of water used by households is for outdoor landscape irrigation.
Two state initiatives already exist with the goal reducing water demand. Florida Water Star is the state’s certification program for new and existing homes and commercial developments that address both outdoor and indoor usage. Florida Friendly Landscaping is a joint program between UF/IFAS and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that provides residents, developers, and landscapers with conservation strategies to protect Florida most precious resource.
The report concludes that as population grows, less water will be available for per capita human usage. Now is the time to move forward with serious water conservation efforts before it is too costly or too late.
To see the full report, visit 1000friendsofflorida.org/water2070.