The Villages Voice - July 2017

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UNDERSTANDING HOW OUR WATER SUPPLY IS MANAGED

by WaterMatters.org

UNDERSTANDING HOW OUR WATER SUPPLY IS MANAGED In early June The VHA met with representatives from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) to gather information to help understand how water supplies are managed in our area. The following article explains what is involved as they and others oversee the water resources of west-central Florida. The name Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) isn’t recognized by all residents. And even with name recognition, their responsibilities are not always well known or understood. This special district has an enormously important role to manage and protect the public’s water supply. Not only are they tasked with ensuring more than 5 million people spanning 16 counties have water now, but that future generations will have it too. And that’s not all. Preserving water-related natural systems is crucial to the mission as is water quality and flood protection. So how do they accomplish this heavy load? Utility Rates and Water Shortage Orders From the industrial revolution to today, increased production, in most cases, results in a lower per unit cost to the producer. And consumers have been conditioned to expect that the lower cost will be passed on to them in the form of reduced per unit prices. To encourage conservation, using rates for water usage some utilities have implemented Inverted Block Rates or a rate structure that prices successive blocks of use at increasingly higher per-unit prices. The more a customer uses, the greater the price charged. In times of lower rainfall, Water Shortage Orders are used to encourage users to use less water. Surcharges are also imposed to further encourage reduced water use. The combination reduces demand on the strained water system to ensure adequate capacity exists, and are lifted when the temporary shortage no longer exists. Water Supply SWFWMD issues “water use permits” to ensure withdrawals from water bodies will not harm existing users, other water resources or the environment. Permits include conservation, monitoring and reporting requirements to protect groundwater and the environment. Water permits are not based on near term weather conditions but on longer term needs and the proven long term water supply. SWFWMD also performs long-term water supply planning and contributes funding and technical expertise to local governments for programs that conserve water and develop alternative water supplies. It’s because of these efforts that even when the region is experiencing temporary drought conditions, as it is now, there is an adequate supply of public water. This brings up another role: to monitor and address droughts and declining water supplies through Water Shortage Orders. Let’s talk more about Water Shortage Orders since one went into effect on June 5. The orders temporarily enact additional restrictions on water use. As an example, these restrictions can include reducing outdoor irrigation to one day per week, which applies to both public water supply and private wells. No one wants a brown lawn but watering on one assigned day of the week helps maintain water pressure for toilets (public health), firefighting (safety) and other vital purposes (environmental protection). The current Water Shortage Order is scheduled to end August 1. Some utilities have issued a drought surcharge that is also scheduled for removal when the Water Shortage Order ends. Natural Systems Protecting water-related natural systems increases SWFWMD’s ability to carry out all of its responsibilities. To protect natural systems, they purchase lands that store floodwaters, secure future water supply or serve other water-related functions. Additional protection methods include habitat restoration and the establishment of minimum flows and levels for water bodies. Water Quality They are actively involved in maintaining and improving the water quality within its boundaries. Environmental Resource Permits require new developments to capture and treat polluted storm water before it is released. Other water quality activities include various storm water improvement projects, plugging abandoned wells and restoration of springs and other habitats that naturally filter water. They also oversee the collection and analysis water quality data and make it available to the public. Flood Protection Flood protection is accomplished through structural and nonstructural methods. Structural methods include the operation of 18 flood protection structures. Nonstructural methods include purchasing lands that store floodwaters, issuing permits to ensure new development does not cause flooding and other protection programs. SWFWMD uses sound science to help protect the water resources of west-central Florida while carrying out its main areas of responsibility. This article provided just a brief overview of all the agency does. Learn more by visiting WaterMatters.org.