By Stephanie Pearson
Report of October 20, 2017 meeting
To understand water management in South Florida, one needs to know we have a three-tiered system. The primary canals are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District. The secondary canals are managed by our local governments and special districts; and the smaller tertiary canals are handled by home owner associations and private land owners.
Preparing for a big storm is a complex effort by government agencies responsible for our water system. The public may not think about these operations except maybe to notice the canals being lowered before a storm or the fact that power may be out after the storm or debris needs to be cleared.
The TAC Committee heard reports on Hurricane Irma preparations and operations before, during and after the storm by the SFWMD and county agencies.
Before the storm, the SFWMD and local operations need to be sure that water levels are lowered and free of obstruction, equipment is operational and secured, emergency operation centers are manned, and that plans are in place for post storm work.
After the storm, assessments are made of pumps, obstructions, contractor resources, tracking and monitoring systems, and power lines. First priority is clearing areas near power lines. FEMA is considered the last resource.
Hurricane Irma dumped 8 to 11 inches of rain in 48 hours resulting in some local flooding. Lake Okeechobee rose about 3 feet to 17.14 feet. It is estimated that we had about a 2 foot storm surge.
Despite the inconvenience of power outages and debris, we all are aware we are fortunate.
Urban Irrigation Uses the Most Water!
After this rainy season and looking at our full canals, some people may be asking why do we need to conserve water? There are times of drought, of course; but with sea level rise it is especially important that our acquifer be full to fend off salt water intrusion into our drinking water.
Many of us are not aware that urban irrigation uses about 57% of our water! The other 43% is drinking, bathing, commercial, industrial, laundry and everything else. Broward County’s NatureScape Irrigation Service Program works with most of our cities to reduce this water usage.
Irrigation systems for public parks, medians, government buildings, golf courses and private homes are often poorly designed, have damaged components, and are not on timers that water only when necessary. The NatureScape Program provides training and technical advice to cities and has a give-away program for smart irrigation devices.
There is a county ordinance that watering is to be done two days per week. Unfortunately, this law is often not followed. In many instances, city officials do not see water conservation as a priority. There is often a lack of follow-up for identified major leaks and staff do not want to use the mandated shut off devices.
We can all ask our cities whether they are doing all they can to use water efficiently and an important start is urban irrigation.