OUR FRAGILE WATER SUPPLY
In less than two weeks in May 2021, we had several different breaks in the main transmission line that provides water from the mainland to all of the Florida Keys. And then came the notices from the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority:
“IMMEDIATE CONSERVATION MEASURES REQUIRED. All residents and visitors are asked to limit all water use to only essential uses such as drinking and basic hygiene. Please refrain from non-essential uses such as washing cars, boats and running washing machines.“
The entire Florida Keys had low or no water pressure for hours each time. If this didn’t get you thinking about the importance of our water issues, it should. Will we face times when our conservation efforts are not adequate? Don’t we need to do more now?
It was one year ago, on May 7, 2020, that there was an item of the Village council agenda to approve a change to our water supply work plan ordinance. The Village Council approved changes to the Comprehensive Plan, adding promises that we would conserve water through landscaping, education, and restrictions.
One of the objectives of the Village Comprehensive Plan prior to May 2020:
OBJECTIVE 4-5.2: PROMOTE WATER CONSERVATION. Recognizing that the Village is located in an area that the SFWMD identifies as a "priority water resource caution area," the Village shall strive to lower its per person per day usage of water below +/- 149.5 gallons per person per day (gpcpd) and will continue to work with the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) and the SFWMD to reduce demand within the Village for potable water.
Yet our prior council voted 5-0 last May to change this objective to read in part:
“the Village shall strive to lower its per person per day usage of water below +/- 171 gallons per person per day (gpcpd)”
How is that helping to conserve our water supply, allowing each and every person in Islamorada to use an additional 21.5 gallons per day before we need to do something about it?
The Florida Statute says clearly “that something” is to stop issuing building permits! Chapter 163 of the Florida Statutes requires that all local municipalities update their 10-Year Water Supply Facilities Work Plan and comprehensive plan to address the development of traditional and alternative water supplies, conservation and reuse programs. The deadline was May 2020. And we met the deadline – but are we really doing what needs to be done to assure we have addressed our critical water supply? The Florida Statute requires that the local government comprehensive plan must demonstrate that the levels of service (LOS) adopted can be reasonably met.
Why have we increased our level of service limit for potable water from 149 gal/day/person to 171gal/day/person? So that we can justify more development, more growth?We talk about the congestion on U.S. One and whether we could all safely evacuate if a major storm is heading our way. And traffic is a critical concern we face daily as we get stuck in traffic regularly nowadays. But isn’t our water supply equally or perhaps even more concerning?
Let’s face it. The governments in the Florida Keys need to make the difficult decisions and perhaps face the fact that we are over-developed and it is time to stop.
The new homes being built keep getting bigger and bigger. And we are moving into re-development mode – all the conservative little mobile homes and cottages are rapidly disappearing as housing for a small family is being rebuilt as large multi-story vacation rentals, or homes with room for plenty of guests: multiples of the number of flushes every day, more showers, swimming pools galore, more boats and cars being washed, more lush sod to water. More tourists who don’t understand the need to conserve.
Tragic that when we ship our wastewater north to Key Largo and treat it to nearly pure standards, it is then dumped down injection wells instead of re-using it. Click here to read about the re-use decisions from years ago.
Islamorada, is an island community with fresh water that is piped 50 miles through a pipeline that is scheduled for replacement in the next several years. According to the Village staff report from May 2020, replacing the transmission line through Islamorada is expected to cost $30,000,000 – yes $30 million. Will we see more transmission line breaks before that work is complete?
And what about the source of our water?
Village is subject to the jurisdiction of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) regarding local water supply planning. There are absolute limitations on the use of traditional water supplies, which will not be sufficient to meet the water needs of the growing South Florida population.
The FKAA’s primary drinking water supply originates from the Biscayne Aquifer, a below ground formation that supplies freshwater not only to the Keys but to all of Miami-Dade County, Broward County and parts of Palm Beach County… All rapidly growing areas that are diminishing the supply of water in the aquifer.
The FKAA wellfield is located within a pine rockland forest west of Florida City on the mainland.
With such a huge heavily populated area depending on this same source of fresh water that the Florida Keys depends on, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is extremely vital to all of us. It controls an extensive system of canals and other control systems and pumping stations along with the Biscayne Aquifer, Lake Okeechobee and other large water conservation areas as it monitors and controls the storage and release of water in the district. It must take into account the danger of saltwater intrusion and monitor water demand while managing surplus flood water and maintaining adequate water supplies.
We are fortunate to have local Islamorada resident, Cheryl Meads, on the board of SFWMD. She is a critical advocate for us. The future of fresh water should be a daunting concern to all of us, with no water source except that provided through that critical pipe from the region's traditional freshwater sources that may not be enough to inexpensively meet all future water needs.
We must learn to do more. We need more education, more ideas. SFWMD is planning for future needs and we need to listen and participate.