Water conservation in Florida critical as brunt of dry season still ahead

Chad Gillis
Fort Myers News-Press

Local and state agencies are encouraging residents and visitors to conserve water as the brunt of the dry season is still ahead, and a La Niña pattern is expected to make conditions warmer and drier than average between now and the start of the rainy season. 

South Florida's weather is dominated by two seasons: the wet summer and fall months and the dry winter and spring. 

Demand also increases during the dry season as it coincides with the brunt of the tourism season. 

"More than 3 billion gallons of water are used every day in central and southern Florida by nearly 9 million residents and millions of visitors for drinking and bathing, watering our lawns, growing our crops and servicing our industries," said Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District. "With increasing demands comes the need to protect our water supplies. The most effective way is by utilizing all methods of water conservation."

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This dry season could be exceptionally dry as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is calling for below-average rainfall and above average temperatures between now and June. 

Smith said Floridians should always use water conservation practices, but that saving water is even more important over the next four months. 

"This is necessary year-round and becomes increasingly important when we get a forecast of below-average rainfall from effects like La Niña," Smith said. "As our freshwater supply system is totally rainfall driven, proactive steps to curb our water usage and protect the resource are critical." 

Roseate spoonbills feed and preen at Billy Creek Preserve and Filter Marsh Tuesday, May 12, 2020. With the lack of rain and drought like conditions, wetlands and marshes are seeing dry downs. When the water dries down, it leaves small pools of fish and other life with nowhere go, which offers prime feeding opportunites for wading birds in a concentrated area.

The landscape has dried enough that fire experts are conducting controlled burns at places like Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County. 

Controlled or prescribed burns are when a fire is intentionally set to an area to replicate historic conditions. Many of Florida's plants and trees evolved with fire as a regular feature, but some areas are impossible to allow burns in today because they're developed. 

The state is burning in certain parks and preserves as well. 

"Fire has played an important role in Florida’s natural environment for thousands of years, long before humans lived here, and many species of wildlife and vegetation still rely on fire to survive and flourish," said Chuck Hatcher, acting director of the Florida Department of Protection, in a release. "Not only that, but regular use of prescribed fire helps remove hazardous natural fuels that might lead to wildfires." 

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Kurt Harclerode, with Lee County Natural Resources, said only irrigate when absolutely necessary. 

“It’s critical for all of us to do our part to conserve water year-round, but it is particularly important during our seasonal dry season when groundwater supplies can become depleted," he said. "Cutting back on unnecessary use and outside irrigation is necessary to maintain an adequate supply for our essential needs.” 

Some ways to conserve water provided by Lee County include: 

►Fixing leaks as soon as possible from toilets, faucets, or irrigation systems. A single leaky faucet can waste 100 gallons of water in a day.

►Replacing your showerhead with a low-flow version using two gallons of water per minute or less. Older showerheads may use up to five gallons of water per minute.

►Operating automatic dishwashers and clothes washers only for full loads.ñ

►Turning off the faucet after wetting a toothbrush, razor, or washcloth. Turn the faucet back on when you are ready to rinse

►Irrigating no more than once a week in the winter or twice a week in the summer.

►Irrigating during the early morning hours when temperatures and wind speeds are the lowest.

►Using reclaimed or reuse water where available for irrigation.

Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter.