Florida's 'Big Water' Running Dry

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Florida's 'Big Water' Running Dry

Miami lawns drink from drought-drained Lake Okeechobee

Sue Anne Pressley, Washington Post Sunday, February 18, 2001


At his tackle shop near Lake Okeechobee, Bubba Helton has grown accustomed to listening to grumbling from boaters this winter season. Water levels at the nation's second-largest freshwater lake -- the "Big Water" of the Seminoles, the reservoir for all of southeast Florida -- are critically, historically low, and more boats are running aground than are catching crappie.

"It's making it hard for our northern visitors -- they're trying to navigate the lake, and they're scared of it," Helton said. "There's not a whole lot you can say -- the whole continental United States is under a drought. We don't have no control over the man upstairs. But they're all retired, and to them, it's interfering with their recreation."

What happens up at Lake Okeechobee has a direct impact on the dense population centers of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Although much of southern Florida's immediate water supply comes from underground aquifers, Lake Okeechobee on Palm Beach County's western edge, with its hundreds of miles of canals, levees and lock systems, provides the backup during the dry season. Unfortunately, the dry season, lasting now through May, also coincides with the tourist season, when thousands of additional consumers are demanding water.

Because of the already low water levels at Lake Okeechobee and drought conditions locally that are the worst since 1961, water authorities have ordered a series of clampdowns on water use -- the latest being the most restrictive in recent history. But many residents, especially in Miami-Dade County, do not seem to be getting the message.

Last week, officials with the South Florida Water Management District declared their first-ever Phase 2 -- or "severe" -- water shortage emergency along Florida's lower southeast coast. This limits lawn watering or personal car washing to two short periods a week and strikes at what is most dear to the hearts of many South Florida homeowners: their emerald-green lawns.

"Our lawns are very important to us," said Anna Nelson, owner of a Miami landscaping firm. "Since we don't have seasons, we improvise by changing the kind of plants we have in our yards. The fact is, most people, especially those living in really nice neighborhoods, compete with each other when it comes to their yards."

Still, Nelson says her customers, informed of the restrictions, are trying to comply.

But in the lush Pine Hills section of south Miami-Dade last week, quite a few residents apparently were not heeding the lawn-watering rules. Watering is permissible on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. for addresses that end in odd numbers, and on Thursdays and Sundays, with the same hours, for even-numbered addresses.

"Mind your own business," one woman snapped as she crossed her green lawn and got into her car, when asked if her sprinkler was supposed to be on that afternoon.

Since Dec. 7, when a Phase 1, or moderate, water shortage was declared, police officers and inspectors with the Miami-Dade environmental resources management department have written more than 500 warning tickets, mainly to lawn-watering violators. Next time, offenders will receive $75 tickets that could grow to $500, and 60-day jail sentences for the misdemeanor offense.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 18, 2001


It's there own fault ! Dade county doesn't store fresh water they pump it in to the ocean. SFWM lowered the Big 0 after 5 years of high water because there policies were killing the lake, They kept it low for hurricane season. The season passed with little rain north of the lake to refill it while Dade county flooded. The rains didn't refill the lake so now its the weather that the problem. Maybe South east Fl should cut back the ag usage & store some water. just my 2

-- awdragon (awdragon@yahoo.com), February 19, 2001.

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