February 22, 2008

How Dry is Florida?

By Dale Armstrong,
Florida Yards & Neighborhoods

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows much of southwest and central Florida is under severe drought conditions. The entire 16-county Southwest Florida Water Management District area is in a Phase II Water Shortage. I think we all can agree that rainfall in our area of Florida has been way below normal for quite some time. All we have to do is look at our suffering plants and grass to confirm that.

However, it is rare that we have an opportunity to actually observe the impact of these dry conditions in a swamp. Recently, I had the opportunity to do just that. My wife and I had the pleasure of joining folks from the Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society on a visit to Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park a few miles southeast of Naples. This was our second visit to this fabulous linear swamp forest, and we wondered with the on-going drought whether we would actually get our feet wet on this “swamp walk”.

During our first visit in April of 2006, well into the current drought we are experiencing, the deepest portion of the slough we traversed had water that was knee-high. We were told then that the normal water level in that section of the strand is about waist deep on most folks.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State ParkWhat we observed on this most recent trip is that in that same slough there is now no water. In the accompanying photo you can see that the high-water marks on the pond apple are indeed about waist level of the individual standing just in front of the tree. Beyond the slough we came upon a pond that has now shrunk to just a couple of gator holes in the deeper areas. When you see the effects of drought on Florida’s natural areas and realize the impact this has on these ecosystems it really opens your eyes.

Local restrictions imposed on our use of sprinkler systems may be frustrating when we are trying to keep our landscapes looking nice and green. But, since we need to conserve what water supplies we have for more critical uses, restrictions on water used for landscape purposes can certainly be understood. Let’s all make a commitment to conserve this valuable resource, not only for our use but also for the benefit of Florida’s natural areas as well.

Local information about outdoor and indoor water conservation may be found at:

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