South Florida water levels keep rising, but that doesn’t mean drought-triggered watering restrictions for homes and businesses are going away any time soon.
On Tuesday, Lake Okeechobee – South Florida’s primary back-up water supply – rose above what is considered the “water shortage” level.
Also, farming irrigation restrictions remain – requiring 45 percent watering use cutbacks for some growers, including sugar cane.
While water levels may be on the rise now at the tail end of South Florida’s rainy season, projections for a drier than normal winter-to-spring dry season mean this could just be a temporary water supply reprieve.
"Even if the lake rises above the water shortage management zone, it is not expected to stay above the line during the dry season, so conservation will remain critical," district spokesman Gabe Margasak said.
South Florida has averaged more than 6 inches of rain so far in October, which is more than 3 inches above normal.
Lake Okeechobee on Tuesday was 12.93 feet above sea level. That’s about 1 foot higher than just one week ago, but still more than 2 feet below normal.
The effects of this year’s drought were amplified by decisions in 2010 to drain more than 300 billion gallons of Lake Okeechobee water out to sea to lessen the strain on the dike that protects lakeside communities from flooding.
Audubon of Florida and other environmental groups have called for the district to impose tougher watering restrictions, arguing that conservation boosts water supplies for urban areas and wetlands alike.
Twice-a-week watering was already the law of the land for most of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, but Palm Beach County and other areas had been allowing watering up to three times per week before the district imposed the “temporary,” districtwide watering restrictions.
About half of the public water supply ends up getting used for landscape irrigation, according to the water management district.