Lack of access to clean water is devastating communities around the world, and water managers in Southwest Florida are working to ensure the same thing never happens here.
“We turn on our tap and the water comes out of the tap,” said Robert Lucius Jr., who oversees a 60,000-acre watershed that spans Lee and Collier counties.
“We don’t really think about it.”
In other parts of the world, however, having water to drink is always on everyone’s mind.
UNICEF found in 2020 that around a quarter of the world’s population lacks a reliable source of drinking water at home and half lack functioning sanitation systems. In some places, the demand for water exceeds twice the growth rate. In Africa and Southeast Asia, the The United Nations reports that drinking water is scarce or completely unavailable.
The shortage of drinking water is deadly. Nearly half of the estimated 2.2 billion people who struggle to find enough clean water to drink will die of thirst, illnesses caused by ingesting contaminated water, or unsanitary conditions that are becoming endemic in countries lacking of water. The UN has found that more people in the world have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet.
The World Water Council, World Resources Institute and Global Water Leaders join charities such as Water.org and charity: water to work in most drought-prone places around the world. Kristen Bell, Jay-Z and Matt Damon are among a group of Hollywood heavyweights who have put their considerable weight behind efforts to ensure everyone on the planet has access to fresh water.
Bell has raised nearly $70,000 for Charity: Water, a New York nonprofit focused on providing clean water to developing countries. Rapper Jay-Z created a documentary in 2007, “Diary of Jay-Z: Water For Life,” and worked with MTV and the UN to develop a clean water advocacy campaign. Damon co-founded Water.org, which helps families in struggling countries build sanitation systems and maintain clean water supplies.
“Access to water is access to education, access to work, access above all to the type of future that we want for our own families and all the members of our family. human,” Damon said on his organization’s website. “You can’t solve poverty without solving water and sanitation.
Growing populations and climate change are just two of the factors contributing to water problems, globally and in Florida. More people mean more fresh water is needed on a planet with a finite amount, and more than 1,000 people move through the Sunshine State every day. A warming planet means warmer air temperatures that increase evaporation, depriving reservoirs of potable water.
Water issues in Southwest Florida are not as severe as in other parts of the world, but the lack of water still causes a host of problems in the region. Countless hours have been spent by the region’s water managers allocating supplies, so the situation here never comes close to the struggles experienced in other parts of the world. And plans are being made for decades to come so that water problems don’t sneak up on Southwest Florida residents.
Currently, drought is gripping Southwest Florida and state and local water managers have been forced to limit lawn watering and car washing. More than 1,000 people move to Florida every day, and the state is already the third most populous in the country with 21.5 million residents in 2020.
But beneath our feet lies a massive water resource that few other states, or even countries, have: the Florida Aquifer. Fed by groundwater from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina that seeps deep underground until it becomes an underground river that moves millions of gallons of water into the whole state. The Everglades alone provide nine million people with drinking water.
the South Florida Water Management District is one of the agencies working to protect the aquifer and meet the region’s water needs. The district, and others like it, are required by Florida law to create new water supply plans every five years to meet people’s needs, but the South Florida agency is even considering 2045.
The study will identify how water is used in the region, where it will come from in the future when the population is expected to continue to swell, and detail the different categories of water use in the region, how they plan meet these water needs, and what sources are available to meet these demands. The different categories include the commercial, industrial and power generation sectors.
Bob Verrastro, an SFWMD hydrologist, said even the mighty Florida Aquifer and the Everglades aren’t producing enough fresh water to meet today’s needs. As fresh water sources become more limited and water managers have had to start treating brackish supplies to make them safe to drink, prices will rise as the water treatment process becomes more expensive and that the costs will be passed on to the public in water utility bills. The higher costs are already being applied statewide.
Another way to ensure state residents will have water in the future is to preserve what we have now. Conservation efforts on Florida’s lower west coast have reduced the amount of water used per person per day.
In 2005, the number of gallons used per person per day was 170. This had fallen to around 130 gallons by 2011, a figure that has remained about the same despite population growth.
“Water conservation in the Lower West Coast region has been a real success story,” Verrastro said. “Certainly we are encouraging, you know, more and more of an ethic in water conservation.”
Verrastro said he is working on several projects to meet future water needs, such as building a canal along the Caloosahatchee River that will supply water to the estuary downstream. They are also working in the Picayune Strand State Forest to make large amounts of water available for Southwest Collier County, some will go directly into the environment, some will be treated for people to use and some for farmers in the region.
“We go hand in hand with the development of water supply for people,” Verrastro said. “But also for the environment.”
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