2009 Roller Coaster of Weather Extremes, Water Management Challenges
Last January, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) entered 2009 during the driest six-month period in South Florida’s history. The month of May set a rainfall record followed by a near-record dry October. The new year begins with caution as the height of the dry season looms once again.
“The dramatic swings in South Florida’s weather over the last year tested our water managers’ ability to balance water supply, environmental protection and flood control,” said SFWMD Governing Board member Patrick Rooney Jr. “From drought to deluge, the weather extremes of 2009 once again showed us that water conservation is one of the best long-term strategies for protecting water resources.”
Last winter and early spring, water managers were faced with an average 10.13-inch rainfall deficit by the end of the dry season in April 2009. In an abrupt turnabout, May 2009 became the wettest May on record, with 9.04 inches of rain falling across the District. The 2009 wet season reached 40.09 inches of rainfall from May through the last days of October, representing a nearly average amount for this time period. Yet by month’s end, October became the fourth driest October on record. From a water supply perspective, significant rainfall in December helped replenish many groundwater resources, particularly along the east coast.
Lake Okeechobee began the year close to 14 feet NGVD, dipped to about 11 feet around mid-May and rebounded back to approximately 14.5 feet in mid-September. The lake level on December 31 was 13.58 feet NGVD. This range provides near ideal conditions for submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation, the foundation of lake wildlife. Apple snails — the sole food of the endangered snail kite — as well as breeding fish and birds thrive in these conditions.
In all, a total of 48.48 inches of rain fell District-wide from January 1 through December 31, 2009, which is 93 percent of the average and represents a 3.39-inch deficit. Locally, eastern Palm Beach County began the year amid dry conditions, with only 5.45 inches of rainfall from January to the end of April, representing 41 percent of the average and a deficit of 7.69 inches. Water Conservation Areas 1 and 2 — major components of the regional storage system located in central Palm Beach and Broward counties — received only 3.94 inches of rainfall during this period, representing 40 percent of the average and a deficit of 5.84 inches.
The wet season began in May, and the eastern part of the county ended the year with a total of 53.49 inches of rain, representing 85 percent of the average and a deficit of 9.10 inches. The Water Conservation Areas finished the year with 52.20 inches of rainfall, representing 105 percent of the average, or 2.35 inches above normal.
“The Year-Round Landscape Irrigation Rule adopted by the Governing Board brings Palm Beach County and the rest of South Florida one step closer to creating a lasting water conservation culture,” Rooney said. “Water use reductions achieved through the rule will ease the burden on our water resources when we inevitably face periods of dry weather.”
The SFWMD continues to closely monitor water levels and is urging residents and businesses to conserve water and follow landscape irrigation restrictions in effect. More information about irrigation restrictions by area is available on the District’s water restrictions Web site. For water saving tips, visit www.savewaterfl.com.
- Wet January welcome but water shortage concerns remain
- Residents Urged to Conserve Water in Broward
- Broward County faces possible tougher water restrictions
- Year round water conservation now a standard in South Florida
- SFWMD says flood control system operated well as heavy rain came in this week
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