South Florida flooding

Heavy rains in October left some low-lying neighborhoods flooded, including River Oaks in Fort Lauderdale. That rainfall helped make this October one of the wettest in nearly 80 years. (By Julie Chancellor)

What a difference a year makes when it comes to South Florida’s weather and water supply.

One year after South Florida’s driest October ever, October 2011 turned out to be one of the wettest in almost 80 years.

A year ago, October kicked off months of record-setting drought that triggered tougher watering restrictions that remain for homes and businesses from Orlando to the Keys.

This year, a stormy October produced an average of nearly 10 inches of rainfall across South Florida. That was about 6 inches above normal and the fourth highest October rainfall total since regional record keeping began in 1932.

For comparison, South Florida averaged just over half an inch of rain in October 2010. And when Hurricane Wilma hit South Florida in October 2005, the storm only bumped the monthlong rainfall average to 7.98 inches of rainfall.

Low lying neighborhoods in Broward and Miami-Dade counties are still drying out from flooding from three-days of steady rains that started Friday.

Also, summer rains plus the very wet October have regional water supplies rising from the Everglades to Lake Okeechobee.

That improved drinking water supplies and also boosted water levels for wildlife habitat – both of which had been suffering from the driest October-to-June stretch on record.

"We are now in a very good recovery," Susan Sylvester, of the South Florida Water Management District, said about the effect of October rainfall. "It’s clearly a much better position for everyone to be in."

Lake Okeechobee, South Florida’s primary back-up water supply, has risen 2 feet since the end of September.

The lake on Wednesday was 13.6 feet above sea level, about at the same position it was this time last year but still more than a foot below normal.

Even though South Florida is flush with water now, water managers are concerned about forecasts for a drier than normal winter-to-spring dry season.

As a result, landscape watering restrictions remain, limiting watering in most areas to two days per week. Golf courses and agriculture also remain under water use cutbacks, with sugar cane and other growers near Lake Okeechobee required to reduce water use by 45 percent.

Environmental groups have called for maintaining watering restrictions or even shifting to once-a-week landscape watering limits to boost conservation.

South Florida’s main water supply problem remains lack of storage space to hold water from rainy periods so that it can be used during times of need.

Guarding against flooding of towns and farms built on what used to be the Everglades and other wetlands leads to dumping hundreds of billions of gallons of stormwater out to sea.

Nearly two billion gallons of water gets drained out of South Florida canals after a typical summer rain storm.