Dry November worries water managers

— One thing Southwest Floridians had to be thankful for on Thanksgiving was a good soaking by some much-needed rain.

Prior to the showers that dropped 1.4 inches of rain on Naples Wednesday, there had been only one day of measurable rainfall in November, with .29 inches of rain on Nov. 11.

October was even drier, with a total of .48 inches of precipitation, versus an average of 3.6 inches, according to weather.com.

“The beginning of the dry season has been disappointing with regard to rainfall across the region. The wet season ended early, and November has so far received only about a quarter of its average rainfall,” Susan Sylvester, Director of the Operations Control and Hydro Data Management Department at the South Florida Water Management District, said prior to last week’s rains. “While the climate outlook does indicate a higher chance for above normal rainfall, it is still too early to tell how much of an impact the rain will have on the already dry system.”

Lisa Koehler, spokeswoman for the Big Cypress Basin, the local arm of the water management district, said that locally, rain totals in Collier County are also down from normal levels.

“We didn’t get all the rain we should have in the wet season, so we’re a little behind the ball,” she said.

Folks in Golden Gate Estates on individual wells would be the first to be affected, she said.

“The county and city wells are so deep they’re not affected yet,” Koehler said.

R.J. Miller, president of Miller Drilling in Golden Gate, said the water table is holding up well so far.

“We go down four to seven feet, and there’s water there,” Miller said. His company has been drilling wells in Collier County for 28 years.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” cautioned meteorologist Barry Baxter of the National Weather Service in Miami. “We had the driest dry season ever on record in 2008-2009,” he said. And a calm hurricane season that did not dump quantities of water to replenish South Florida’ aquifers didn’t help.

We can thank El Niño for the lack of hurricanes, he said, and added that the El Niño currents in the Pacific could bring relief in the form of rain to Southwest Florida this winter.

“We are in an El Niño pattern, and as that strengthens, we will usually get wetter and cooler weather than normal through January, February and March,” said Baxter. Two additional weather patterns, the North American Oscillation based near Greenland, and a phenomenon he called the “Pineapple Express,” bringing moisture-laden air across Mexico from the Pacific near Hawaii, are affecting our weather, with the Pineapple Express anticipated to eventually win out and bring more rain to the Florida peninsula.

“It takes a couple of months for the weather pattern to catch up” and bring the expected conditions, he cautioned, “and I cannot personally guarantee any of this.”

The water management district, which oversees water resources in the southern half of the state, recently approved a year-round water conservation rule that will place permanent restrictions on landscape irrigation. For now, phase two restrictions limiting watering to one or two days a week remain in effect, and the district urges everyone to work to conserve water.

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