Florida's Water Story
Water is Florida's lifeblood. It powers our economic engine and defines life for all its inhabitants . An expanding population and periods of drought have stressed the aquifer, the state's drinking water supply, and many rivers and lakes are impaired because of pollutants from stormwater runoff. Today, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection oversees one of the most extensive watershed restoration programs in the world. In every corner of the state, DEP is working to hellp restore the health of rivers, lakes and streams.
Narrator: 150 billion gallons - that's nearly enough to fill a quarter million Olympic sized swimming pools. On average, that's how much rain falls daily on the state of Florida.
Rain recharges the aquifer - Florida's underground rivers - and gives rise to the largest concentration of freshwater springs on the planet -- places like Wakulla Spring with freeway-sized underground tunnels and caves to Blue Springs which feeds the St. Johns River and provides wintertime refuge to manatees.
Rain saturates Florida's swamps and sloughs; supplies its streams and rivers - the north-flowing, 300-mile long St. Johns; the Kissimmee, much of it happily meandering again; the Apalachicola which primes a bay that is a literal seafood buffet -- and the planet's only sawgrass river the Everglades.
Mike Sole, Secretary, Florida Department of Environmental Protection: While you look down and see the river and wonder what's feeding that river, it's primarily rain.
Narrator: Rainwater flows across Florida's mostly flat landscape, into the ground and out of our springs feeding the flows of the powerful Suwannee and the crystal clear Ichetucknee - rivers that are poetry in motion. Places that inspired explorers to search for a fountain of youth and have sustained people for more than 10,000 years.
Rain and groundwater fill our lakes - - the grand Okeechobee, the most prominent Florida feature viewed from space, and smaller lakes with names like Minnehaha, that dot the central Florida landscape.
Water is Florida's lifeblood. It powers our economic engine and defines life for all its inhabitants -- human and animal.
Mike Sole: We're very fortunate in Florida to have some seven hundred fresh water springs, over 50,000 miles of rivers and streams, and 1,350 miles of coastline that really shape Florida's water footprint. No matter where you live in the state of Florida, there is a water body that truly defines your community.
Narrator: But Florida's water footprint used to be much bigger than it is today.
Mimi Drew, Deputy Secretary, Florida Department of Environmental Protection: If you look back in history the way Florida was settled, the state was mostly under water in south Florida. People came into the state. Mosquitoes were terrible. Floods were terrible. Hurricanes were terrible. And they had one focus, get the water off the land. So they built a very complicated series of canals. That's an example where we were driven to do that by safety concerns for people who live there. We weren't really thinking at the time about water quality
Narrator: From the Everglades to the Panhandle, man reigned over the rain-fed rivers, wetlands and lakes for the better part of a century. Engineers drained swamps and straightened rivers, turning watery ecosystems into pastures and farms and communities. These early - and well-intentioned - feats of flood-control engineering and land development were not without consequences.
Mimi Drew: The state has grown dramatically since then. Unfortunately, our development practices have not kept pace with that. We've only now in the past 10 or 15 years begun to realize that by running all that water off the surface of Florida, not only are you potentially creating water quality problems for the receiving water, but you are running out a whole lot of fresh water that could and should be used for water supply.
Narrator: An expanding population and periods of drought have stressed the aquifer, the state's groundwater supply.
Mike Sole: Ninety percent of Floridians rely on groundwater for the potable water and drinking water. What we've recognized though if we overuse groundwater is that those groundwaters are directly tied to the rivers, springs and wetlands in the state of Florida, and we need to be very cautious on overutilizing the groundwater systems in the State of Florida because of their effect on the natural system.
Narrator: In addition to diminished groundwater supplies, many of Florida's rivers and lakes are plagued with stormwater runoff and other pollutants. Pollutants that range from fertilizers used on our farms and lawns, to pet wastes and bacteria from faulty septic systems are washed by the rain into our rivers and lakes. As a result many of the state's rivers and lakes are considered too impaired for fishing or swimming. Restoring the health of impaired rivers challenges government at all levels.
Mimi Drew: Certainly DEP is doing a lot to address these issues. And not just DEP, but we're working with the water management districts. And there are a lot of local governments that have taken huge steps in this direction. They are taking it on themselves at the local level. Which is really what you want to happen. You want local buy in; state government is never going to be able to do it all.
Narrator: Today, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection oversees one of the most extensive watershed restoration programs in the world. In every corner of the state, DEP is working with communities to permit and fund new stormwater systems, wastewater treatment plants to recycle and reuse water, and comprehensive, long-range plans to restore the health of rivers, lakes and streams.
Mimi Drew: The issue is, really government can't do it all. It's a really personal responsibility to protect the environment. I can't stress how important it is to bring up a generation of children who understand the water cycle. Who understand their place in the world. We like to say water is water...drinking water, groundwater, wastewater. It's a giant cycle, and if you don't clean it up before it gets into ground water or surface water, you end up cleaning it up after, which is a lot more expensive.
Narrator: Cleaning up water and protecting watersheds throughout the state is a responsibility and cost shared by everyone - the farmer putting food on our tables, the sport fisherman vying for the trophy bass, those in search of relief from the heat, explorers who probe Florida's aquatic wilderness -- homeowners and gardeners, builders and developers and industry and ...well the list flows on.
In short, everyone plays a part in watershed protection - whether it's protection of the pond down the road or the spring or river twenty miles away.
Mike Sole: When you recognize that as a part of the community the connectivity that you have to the river, you then recognize the fact that you can make changes in your habits to improve the quality of water in the river. And that's something that we all need to accept, that we are connected to the waters in Florida no matter where you live and the fact that we can take actions to keep those waters in a pristine state is important to all Floridians.
DEP - Division of Water Resource Management