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Natural Awakenings

H20 Shortfall: Florida Gets Serious about Water Reuse

Jan 01, 2008 03:00AM

After Lake Okeechobee’s alarmingly high water levels and harmful massive estuary dumps in 2004 and 2005, managers recorded the lowest water level ever in May 2007. Near the end of the 2007 hurricane season, the lake was still five feet shallower than average. Okeechobee supplies drinking water for more than five million people and directly affects the health of the Everglades and agricultural production. 

Water restrictions aren’t making much headway as Florida’s population soars. So some municipalities are moving forward with wastewater reclamation projects.

For example, between the mid-1990s and 2005, South Florida alone more than doubled water reuse to 230 million gallons a day according to the South Florida Water Management District. Currently 28 percent of the District’s wastewater cycles back through public-treatment systems. But it’s still a small share of the total 3.4 billion gallons of water a day used in the region—most of it sprayed on crops and lawns.

West Palm Beach is currently at the forefront of a move to let the land’s natural filtering process finish cleaning its highly treated water. In late 2006 the city began sprinkling up to 10 million gallons a day onto the 20-acre Grassy Waters Preserve marshland, which provides most of the drinking water for 130,000 people. Officials want to double that. It lessens the city’s dependence on Okeechobee, which currently provides 25 percent of their annual water supply.

Nationwide, the non-profit WateReuse Association reports that in 2006 Americans produced 32 billion gallons of municipal sewage a day. Only 3.4 billion gallons a day were reused. They expect that figure to surge to 12 billion gallons per day by 2015.


Source:  The Christian Science Monitor and Audubon of Florida

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