2020 could bring water shortages

WEST PALM BEACH — The new year could bring water shortages for the South Florida Water Management District, according to the Water Conditions Report presented at the Dec. 12 SFWMD Governing Board meeting.

“At your next governing board meeting at the end of January, staff will be bringing to you a briefing on water shortage planning,” warned John Mitnik, assistant executive director.

The wet season ended in September, which was also “the driest September on record for the 88 periods of record that we have,” said Mr. Mitnik.

October rainfall was slightly below average, he said. November finished below average with about 74 percent of average rainfall for the month.

“We’ve only gotten about half the rain, to date, that we would normally get during the dry season,” he said.

District wide, some areas have received more rainfall than others, he said.

East Lake Toho is being drawn down for a restoration project, so they can do some scraping of the lake bottom, Mr. Mitnik continued. Lake Kissimmee is below its regulation schedule, even though it is receiving water from East Lake Toho and Lake Toho.

Lake Okeechobee was at 12.89 feet on Dec. 12, the date of the meeting. In the last month only about 6,000 acre feet has inflowed into Lake Okeechobee, Mr. Mitnik continued. (That’s about 2 billion gallons of water or about one-sixth of an inch on the Big O. One inch on Lake Okeechobee is about 12 billion gallons of water.)

South of the lake, Water Conservation Area (WCA) 1 is below it’s schedule.

WCA 3 has dropped down below its regulation schedule, he said. He explained they have been moving some water from WCA 2 to WCA 3 to try to sustain the nesting colony in that area.

The rainfall plan from WCA 3 is calling for zero water to move from WCA 3 into Shark River Slough, he continued. Last week SFWMD started moving 150 to 250 cubic feet per second to Taylor Slough. He said pumps are used to pick up water that seeps out and return it to the system.

The least amount of rain has fallen over Water Conservation Area 3 and Everglades National Park. “Mother Nature has not been kind to this part of the system,” he said.

The Climate Prediction Center is calling for below average rainfall for the rest of December, and below average rainfall for the three-month period from December to February, Mr. Mitnik said. For the three-month period from February to April, the center is calling for below average conditions north of Lake Okeechobee.

“Not only does it matter if it rains, it also matters where it rains, or in this case, doesn’t rain,” Mr. Mitnik said.

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