The St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board approved a water shortage warning order for seven counties in north central Florida as hydrologic trends indicated a pattern of below-average rainfall.
The counties impacted are Nassau, Flagler, Baker, Clay, Putnam, Marion and Lake Counties, according to a press release from St. Johns River Water Management District.
Over the past 12 months, the district recorded an average district rainfall shortage of 9.1 inches. Although these conditions have not reached a dangerous level so far, experts say now is the time to increase awareness of this issue.
“On average, the St. Johns District receives 50 inches of rainfall a year,” said Kraig McLane, technical program manager for the St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board. “So when the 12-month average is lower than that, that’s generally something we want to keep an eye out.”
McLane said the seven counties are experiencing low stream flows and low rainfall, and that the warning essentially calls for voluntary water conservation practices to be prepared.
A water shortage warning order’s purpose is to reduce water use to make sure enough water will be available to meet the district’s demand.
Although Alachua County has also experienced a 12-month deficit greater than 10 inches, its levels are not low enough to be put in the water shortage warning order.
“Within a college town, drought can lead to a price increase, which can have negative consequences on a student’s limited budget,” said Fergus Keatinge, a University of Florida geography instructor over email. “We could also see an increase in health issues related to dehydration and extreme heat.”
It is important to be aware of these trends because knowledge of current and expected future drought conditions allows us to mitigate the negative consequences of water shortages – like social and environmental issues, energy prices and infrastructure-related problems, such as sinkholes, Keatinge said.
“We have pretty detailed rainfall information, we have detailed surface water level information,” McLane said. “Based on those factors, we determined that those seven counties needed to have the warning as opposed to the other counties that weren’t listed.”
Resources will continue to be monitored over the next few months, and additional counties could possibly be added.
“Those counties are just experiencing a little more intense drought conditions than the rest of our counties right now,” said Ann Shortelle, St. Johns River Water Management District executive director. “Not to say that we shouldn’t all be conserving water.”
According to the district’s website, finding and fixing leaks in toilets, sinks or broken sprinklers can save thousands of gallons of water from being wasted.
Installing low-flow toilets and shower heads also helps reduce water consumption without reducing performance.
“Monitoring rainfall and deciding if you need to turn your irrigation systems on or not can be a great way to save water in your outdoor lawn watering,” McLane said. “General watching practices – things like shorter showers, being careful with hoses running in the yard – those kind of things.”