Southern Regional Water Program

Research, Extension & Education Water Quality Programs through the Land Grant University System

Water Quantity and Policy in Florida

State-Wide Water Balance


Florida’s water balance consists of average daily inflows of 26,000 MGD (million gallons per day) as surface water and 150,000 MGD as rainfall (176,000 MGD total) with average daily outflows of 66,270 MGD as surface and ground water, 107,000 MGD as evapo-transpiration and 2,730 MGD as consumptive use.

Surface Water Resources

Florida has more than 7700 warm-temperate and subtropical water bodies, making it the most lake-rich southern state. Florida also has thousands of small permanent ponds and ephemeral water bodies. Florida’s lakes cover about 6% of the landscape. Swamps and marshes occupy another 10% of the state. Many of the lakes are small; a few are large. Lake Okeechobee with an area of 683 sq. mi.(1770 km2 ), and a maximum depth of 16.5 ft. (5 m) is the largest. Florida lakes are typically shallow (less than 16.5 ft (5 m), and very few are greater than 66 ft (20 m) deep. Florida has more than 1700 rivers of all sizes. Most rivers have headwaters in the state, but some originate in Alabama and Georgia. The largest rivers discharge along the coasts, and 21 of 23 major rivers lie on the Gulf Coast. There are more than 300 artesian springs in the state. Florida has 27 first magnitude springs (more than 100 ft3/sec), about one-third of all such springs in the US.

Groundwater Resources

Florida has abundant groundwater resources. Because of its abundance and availability, groundwater is the principal source of freshwater for public-supply, rural and industrial uses and is the source of about half of the water used in irrigation. The aquifers are truly the lifeblood of sustainable economic endeavors in the state, but the quantity is finite. Potable water is obtainable from each of the principal aquifers (Biscayne, sand and gravel, surficial, intermediate and the Floridan). The Biscayne aquifer underlies all of Dade and Broward counties and part of Palm Beach and Monroe counties. The sand and gravel aquifer is the major source of drinking water in the western part of the panhandle (Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties). Surficial aquifers are present in much of east coastal and south-central Florida. In southern Florida and along the eastern part of the peninsula, one or more aquifers are present between the surficial aquifer and the underlying Floridan aquifer system; these aquifers are referred to as “intermediate aquifers.” The Floridan aquifer underlies the entire state and is one of the most productive aquifers in the United States.

Coastal and Estuarine Waters

Peninsular Florida extends over 6 degrees of latitude giving rise to a diversity of estuary types. Groundwater provides important hydrological contributions to most of Florida’s estuaries. Florida’s estuaries tend to be small to moderate in size while watersheds upon which they depend tend to be large. As a result, land-use practices and hydrological manipulations within the watersheds (e.g., over large areas, often far from the coast) can have substantial impacts on the estuaries. Historically, estuaries in Florida were associated with several principal economic activities as transportation routes, fisheries, and military training bases. With population growth, however, a more diversified coastal economy has developed. Eighty-five percent of sport and commercially harvested and finfish species in Florida depend on estuaries (where freshwater from the land meets saltwater from the sea). Sixteen of Florida’s 21 metropolitan areas are built around an estuary or lie at the mouth of a river where it flows into the sea. Hydrology links the land, the watershed, coastal system and the estuary.

Water Allocation Policy

The Florida Water Resources Act of 1972 brought all waters of the state under regulatory control. Five water management districts were formed, encompassing the entire state. The districts are required to implement regulatory programs for well construction, consumptive water use, and for alterations to the hydrologic regime (management and storage of surface water). A constitutional amendment passed by statewide referendum in 1976 granted ad valorem taxing power to the water management districts. Statewide authority for water resource management was vested in the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The DEP was directed to develop, with the five water management districts, a State Water Use Plan and to delegate water management authority to the districts "to the greatest extent practicable."

Water Quality Policy

The Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act, along with several other pieces of legislation, provides the statutory basis for regulation of most aspects of water quality in Florida. It provides the DEP with broad powers and duties to protect and improve water quality throughout the state. These include the power to classify surface and groundwater bodies according to their most beneficial uses; establish ambient water quality criteria within each classification for various parameters of water quality; develop standards of quality for wastewater discharges; and implement a permit system for the "operation, construction, or expansion of any installation that may be a source of “water pollution" and require posting bond to operate any such installation.

Conditions and Trends

Most Water Management Districts within the state have identified areas within which sources of water are projected to be inadequate to meet projected demands through 2020. As part of the water supply planning process, the Water Management Districts must identify acceptable sources and strategies for developing the needed additional quantities of water. Implementation of projects necessary to actually develop the additional water supplies must be carefully thought out because the cumulative impacts of these projects must not cause unacceptable impacts and the costs must be affordable.

Freshwater inflows (rainfall and surface and groundwater) to Florida remain fairly constant when averaged over 10-20 years, but increased water use in Georgia and Alabama could diminish the surface and groundwater inflows. Water allocation negotiations for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Rivers are currently being conducted between the states of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Water intake from the upstream region of the rivers dictates the fresh water inflow into the Apalachicola Bay, and consequently affects the salinity in the Bay. Change in salinity has a profound influence on the ecological system in the near coastal region. Public water-supply demands are increasing at a faster rate in coastal counties than in interior counties due to population growth there. Projected population growth there will be directly competing with the agricultural sector for water.

Reclaimed water use will increase for agriculture, golf courses, some urban developments, and industry. Major factors will be funding of treatment plants, cost of piping the reclaimed water to the users, and public acceptance. Some water management districts are funding certain projects to encourage reclaimed water use. Growers will probably be mandated to carefully manage their irrigation practices. Conservation and water restrictions will continue. Consumptive use permits will not provide sufficient water for agriculture in moderate to severe drought years.

There is concern with the continued growth of the population in South Florida that the quantity of water will not be sufficient, at least without increased costs to the taxpayers. Conservation has taken a back seat at present in the public's mind since there has been adequate recent rainfall to prevent drought. Efforts should continue to stress conservation and promote new technologies to ensure more efficient use of water resources.

Resources and Programs

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida A&M University, College of Engineering Science, Technology and Agriculture provide research, education and extension resources to assist state and federal agencies, business and industry, communities and individual citizens in addressing water quality concerns. These programs are designed to provide information for specific audiences, such as farmers, homeowners and youth.

Extension Outreach

The University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service and Florida A&M University College of Engineering Sciences, Technology & Agriculture Cooperative Extension and Outreach Program develop and deliver programs designed to provide educational outreach into all counties of the state. Extension education enables research conducted at colleges, universities and other places throughout the world to be interpreted and delivered to the end user (e.g., families, business owners and agricultural producers). Some of the major Extension education programs addressing water quantity and policy in Florida are:

The objective of FL411 Florida Water Conservation is to increase water use efficiency and reduce water consumption while maintaining adequate and sustainable water supplies for urban and agricultural users in Florida. The emphasis of this major program is on promoting the most efficient water use in agriculture, landscape, and urban settings. The program is directed towards urban and agricultural audiences.

FL105 Management of Water And Nutrients in Florida's Nursery Industry improves irrigation application and fertilizer use efficiency in Florida nurseries. Educational programs are conducted by cooperative extension personnel and result in 15-20% reductions in quantity of water applied per acre and 8-10% reductions in fertilizer applied per acre at container nurseries.

The goal of FL113 Sustainable Community Development and Enhancement of Natural Systems in Florida is to educate and empower Florida's citizens, including business and government professionals, to create communities that are environmentally sound, economically productive and socially just.

FL315 Coastal and Marine Recreation/Tourism and Waterway Management in Florida aims to 1) prepare educational materials that will help the marine recreation industries function in an economically and environmentally sustainable way, 2) provide support to existing education programs that will improve boating safety and promote boat operation ethics on Florida waterways, 3) develop boating and bay management guidelines and educational materials which foster stewardship, nature-based tourism, and resource sustainability, and 4) provide to state and local decision-makers, planning models and management methods that are based on science-based information and that will provide for use of Florida's waterways while sustaining environmental resources.

Scientific Research

College and University Education

Youth and continuing adult education are critical to develop new talent and human resources to address the water quality issues of the future. Educational curricula in water quantity and policy are available within three colleges at the University of Florida, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Natural Resources and Environment and the Levin College of Law. Key courses include those found in the following areas:

Courses addressing drinking water and human health at Florida A&M University are located within the College of Engineering Sciences, Technology & Agriculture.

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