Protecting Our Waters
Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities
Safeguarding Florida’s Waters
Florida and its watery resources are inextricably linked. This state encompasses 11,000 miles of rivers, 8,000 lakes and one of the largest aquifers in the world. Much of the state’s drinking water emanates from the massive Floridan aquifer to the north and the Everglades to the south. Protecting Florida’s waters is essential. Recognizing the important interrelationships between land management and water resource protection, 1000 Friends has focused considerable attention on the impacts of land development on this state’s water resources.
Florida’s environment provides both the foundation for this state’s quality of life and the cornerstone of its economy. Residents and visitors alike are attracted by the abundant opportunities provided by Florida’s beautiful rivers, springs, lakes, beaches, and wild and natural lands. Tourism officials market Florida’s distinctive lifestyle, economic development leaders promote it to attract new businesses, and residents enjoy the many benefits this lifestyle confers. In addition, Florida’s seafood industry is a major economic driver dependent on a healthy environment, and the state is the recreational fishing capital of the world.
In 2014, Florida surpassed New York to become the third most populous state in the nation, with its 2016 population exceeding 20 million residents. In 2017 alone more than 116 million tourists visited Florida and, once again, this state is attracting in excess of 1000 new residents a day. This rate of growth places a tremendous strain on Florida’s lands and waters.
Photo by John Moran
Photo by John Moran
Trouble in Paradise
But there is trouble in paradise. As this state’s population continues to grow at a rapid pace, Florida’s aquifers – the source of our drinking water – are being overpumped, lakes and rivers are drying up, and spring flows are dropping. Water quality continues to decline due to poorly managed runoff from agriculture, development and septic tanks.
Major discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee, agricultural pollution, drainage canals and septic tanks in coastal counties flow into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and the length of the Indian River Lagoon, leading to toxic algae blooms with significant health and economic impacts. Because of the redirection of historic flow from Lake Okeechobee, its fresh waters no longer flow south into the Everglades and Florida Bay as nature intended.
Due to altered flows, salinity levels in Florida Bay, the St. Johns River, Apalachicola Bay and Florida’s other estuaries have changed with devastating impacts on the seafood industry, economy and traditional way of life.
Urban areas are in trouble as well. City streets in South Florida now routinely flood during high tide, disrupting daily life, requiring costly infrastructure retrofits, and threatening salt-water intrusion into the potable water supply. Sprawling new development not only eats up rural lands but also forces taxpayers to pay more for roads, sewer and water services and other infrastructure that extends into the countryside. Crowded roads and schools increasingly are becoming the norm and will only worsen as our state welcomes more residents and visitors.
In recent years a number of programs, policies and funding sources designed to address these very problems have been seriously weakened or dismantled including eliminating the state growth management agency; cutting funding and staff for Florida’s five water management districts; insufficiently enforcing the reduction of pollutants emanating from farms and dairies, lawns and septic tanks; reducing funding for municipal and county programs to address water pollution; and underfunding Florida’s land conservation program – widely recognized as the best in the country – despite overwhelming voter passage of a constitutional amendment to restore historic funding to the Florida Forever program.
Water 2070 reveals that development-related water demand will be the major driver of increased future water consumption in Florida. If we don’t change the way we develop land and consume water, this demand will more than double by 2070. The combination of more compact development patterns and a modest 20% increase in water conservation has the potential to reduce water use by more than a quarter in 2070. Already there are existing water supply shortages in some areas of the state. Promoting more compact development and significantly increasing water conservation efforts is essential if Florida is to accommodate 15 million more residents, maintain its agricultural productivity, and protect natural systems in 2070.
Citizens can help. Use Florida-Friendly Landscaping (TM) and other measures to seek or reduce or eliminate landscaping water use, lessen the need for irrigation by using the right plants in the right location and reduce stormwater runoff. If an irrigation system is used, make sure it is designed and calibrated for water efficiency. Use Florida Water Star certified appliances and more.
Springs and Springshed Protection
With more than 700 freshwater springs, Florida is blessed with perhaps the largest concentration of these natural features in the world. Most of Florida’s springs are located in the region stretching from Hillsborough, Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties in central Florida, northwest to Walton County in the Florida Panhandle.
For thousands of years, humans have been drawn to their crystalline waters for both sustenance and recreation. These springs derive from the Floridan Aquifer, the source of drinking and most fresh water supply for much of Florida. The aquifer in turn draws much of its waters from the region’s rainfall upon the landscape, and many years of surface water percolating into the ground.
Development, roads, agriculture and other byproducts of human development in the region’s springsheds are negatively impacting the quality of Florida’s springs. Recognizing the significance of Florida’s springs, 1000 Friends has been in the forefront of efforts to develop workable land use strategies to protect Florida’s springsheds — and springs — from the impacts of human activity.
The Everglades is a truly unique and distinctive American ecosystem. While billions of dollars have been expended on the engineering aspects of Everglades restoration, scant attention has been paid to the tremendous development pressures facing the fringes of the Everglades.
Since its inception, 1000 Friends has worked to promote sound planning in the region. It has participated in numerous successful legal challenges to protect the Everglades from impacts from Miami-Dade to Martin counties, including cases challenging the expansion of urban service boundaries and allowing rock mining. 1000 Friends also prepared a report on the Everglades Agricultural Area — a 700,000-acre area integral to the greater Everglades ecosystem — identifying threats to the area and strategies to address them.
As development pressures continue, 1000 Friends understands it is more important than ever to advocate for sound planning to protect the Everglades.
Coastal Resources Protection
Bounded on three sides by water, Florida has approximately 8,400 miles of tidal coastline, with most of this state’s burgeoning population residing in its coastal counties. These areas are most vulnerable to the impacts of storms and development, and Florida has legislation guiding development in coastal high hazard areas.
1000 Friends has been involved in a number of coastal issues over the years. 1000 Friends launched the recognized Waterfronts Florida Program on behalf of the Florida Department of Community Affairs, helping small communities across the state revitalize their waterfront areas in an environmentally sensitive manner. We have provided staff support to such bodies as the Florida Governor’s Ocean Committee and have prepared publications to help citizens better understand the forces of nature as they develop in coastal areas.
Due to the vulnerability of coastal areas, Chapter 163.3178, Florida Statues. defines requirements regarding coastal planning in this state. Florida’s coastal counties are required to prepare a coastal element for their comprehensive plan with requirements outlined on this Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) webpage.
Photo by Nic Stoltzfus
Outside: Sustainable Landscape Collaborative
Why is it important for local governments and the State of Florida to focus resources on the adoption of sustainable landscapes? What are some of the next steps for moving local governments and the State forward towards the adoption of sustainable landscape policies and principles? A panel addresses these questions and more from the industry, academic and landscape architecture perspectives to help lay the foundation for meaningful change.
Moderate projections indicate that by 2070, Florida’s population will reach approximately 33.7 million residents, close to 15 million more than in 2010. What happens if Florida continues to develop as it has in the past, with development sprawling into rural and agricultural lands? What will our state look like if we choose more compact development patterns closer to existing development, and protect more natural lands?
Implementing Water 2070: Water Conservation Planning for Florida Communities
As Water 2070 confirms, significant water conservation measures are essential to lessen development-related water demand in Florida over the coming decades. Speakers discuss Florida-specific water conservation planning and residential irrigation water trends based on utility billing records from several regions of Florida.
Sustainable Landscaping Principles and Practices
Explore best practices, trends and market opportunities for sustainable landscaping in the State of Florida. Sustainable landscaping is a set of landscaping principles and practices which minimize environmental degradation and make more efficient use of energy, water and other natural resources.
Urban Tree Selection for Sustainability
What role can local governments and property owners play in promoting healthy ecosystems within urban environments? This webinar focuses on the importance of maintaining existing and selecting new sustainable vegetation for Florida communities with an emphasis on the role of local governments.
Watershed Planning: Lessons Learned from Florida’s Springs
Find out about challenges facing Florida’s springs, workable planning strategies to address those challenges, and how springshed planning approaches can be applied to other watersheds throughout Florida.