water 2070

This graphic shows which areas of the state are experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions (yellow) and “moderate drought” (tan) during the week of Dec. 27. / Graphic courtesy of U.S. Drought Monitor

A recent report, “Water 2070,” has dire predictions for Florida’s most precious and dwindling resource.

The report provides two possibilities for the future: “Trend,” and the more optimistic “Alternative.” Either way, though, water — already one of the state’s scarcest resources — will be a lot harder to obtain by 2070, the report predicts: “Given existing water shortages in some areas of the state, the 54% increase in total demand from 2010 to 2070 Trend, and even the 30% increase from 2010 to 2070 Alternative, are clearly not sustainable.”

“Water 2070” uses 2010 consumption figures as a baseline and assumes that development patterns — measured during that year — continue. The biggest driver of water consumption by 2070 will be 15 million new Floridians. The state now has more than 20 million residents.

This section of The Mindanao, a tour boat on Lake Okeechobee, was recovered during the severe drought of 2007. “Lake O” fell to historically low levels, revealing this section of the lower portion of the teak bow. The concrete served as ballast, improving stability. The Mindanao sank on Sept. 16, 1928, during the monster hurricane that killed about 3,000 people in the Glades. On display at the Lawrence E. Will Museum of the Glades, Belle Glade. / J.D. Vivian

Increase in water demand most likely to affect Central, NE Florida

Surprisingly, according to the report, densely populated South Florida isn’t the most likely area to suffer from water shortages. Instead, “Central and Northeast Florida … are most impacted by both population growth and sprawling development patterns and, as a result, development-related water demand.”

The report also notes that, while agriculture is a major user of water, new developments that replace farmland will not reduce that consumption. The section “Water 2070 Trend” — which is far less optimistic than the section “Water 2070 Alternative” — predicts “Agricultural lands are lost to development, but the same per acre irrigation demand is assumed.”

Assumptions from “Water 2070” might be too optimistic

Yet even the more confident “Alternative” section of the report contains assumptions that are highly unlikely. For example, “Agriculture irrigation demand is based on data from a study prepared for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which estimates water demand for crops, livestock and aquaculture in 2035. No irrigated lands identified in this study were allowed to develop under this (i.e., the “Alternative”) scenario” (italics added).

Many tracts throughout the state, especially in South Florida, that were once protected have been rezoned to allow commercial and/or residential development.

In an April 27, 2016, Palm Beach Post story, “Land-use changes may mean more development west of Boynton, Delray,” reporter Wayne Washington wrote “The Palm Beach County Commission gave final approval to comprehensive-plan changes that could spur more residential and commercial development in the Agricultural Reserve, a 22,000-acre farming and conservation zone west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.”

State might use 8.15 billion gallons per day by 2070

In 2010, the report says, statewide water usage totaled about 5.25 billion gallons per day; that figure represents consumption by commercial and residential developments and agriculture combined. About 8.15 billion gallons per day (GPD) will be needed by 2070, according to the “Trend” section of “Water 2070.”

The “Alternative” section predicts that total water usage by 2070 will be about 6.9 billion gallons per day — some 1.25 billion GPD less. That lower figure is based on two optimistic assumptions: “even more compact development and increasing water conservation efforts.”

Despite its high population density, South Florida is the only region in the state with a “higher agriculture demand than development demand. This is attributable to the large acreage in the region currently under irrigation, including portions of the Everglades Agricultural Area and the nurseries in south Miami-Dade County.”

Three organizations cooperated to produce the report, issued in November 2016: the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the University of Florida’s Geoplan Center, and 1000 Friends of Florida.

For the complete report, visit www.1000friendsofflorida.org/Florida2070. To monitor drought conditions in Florida and throughout the country, visit www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu.