9 Investigates increasing demand on freshwater in central Florida



ORLANDO, Fla. - Abundant freshwater for central Florida has been a way of life since the area was first settled, but according to a new report, that is coming to an end.

According to the Central Florida Water Initiative, water demand in Orange County will increase 50 percent by 2035, with water demand in Osceola County more than doubling.

Central Florida gets almost all of its water from the Floridan aquifer. Stretching more than 100,000 square miles, the Floridan aquifer provides freshwater for municipalities across the state, in addition to agriculture and industry.

However, the CFWI report calls on water management districts to "expand reclaimed water systems and other alternative water supplies to minimize the use of Floridan aquifer groundwater."

In other words, explore desalination and treated surface water as alternatives to pumping the aquifer.

"In central Florida, we're reaching that sustainable limit," said Hank Largin of the St. Johns River Water Management District. "We're going to get to the point where we can't take any more water out of the ground."

Development in central Florida has taken the largest toll on water resources. While in Orange County, SeaWorld is the single largest water consumer.

PDF: CFWI Regional Water Supply Plan 2014

The next four spots in the top five water users list are occupied by golf courses. Combined, SeaWorld and the area's four golf courses used 795,742,000 gallons of water from November 2012 to October 2013.

While consumer and commercial demand for water has increased, agricultural demand has fallen, with demand in Orange County expected to fall by 50 percent in the next two decades as farmland is transformed into residential, commercial and industrial zones.

"You can't pave everything," said Orange County orange grower Carl Fabry.

Fabry is one of the few orange growers left in Orange County. He said, typically, farmland like his would be used as a filter for surface water as it made its way to the aquifer, replacing the water that was taken out.

"There is no recharge taking place of our good water," said Fabry.

The increasing demand, coupled with a decreased recharge, has the Central Florida Water Initiative exploring other possibilities for delivering water to the area.

Not far from central Florida, another major urban center is already exploring its options. In Tampa Bay, seawater undergoes desalination at a cost of $3.38 per 1,000 gallons, according to the CFWI.

Florida's immediate access to seawater provides a possible solution for coastal communities. However, any seawater delivered to central Florida would need to be pumped inland, adding to the already high cost of water desalination.

In the short term, limiting water use permits may become a primary option, along with taxes for pumping from the aquifer that would encourage limiting use.

Central Florida pulls more than 800 million gallons of water every day from the aquifer, but according to the study, that demand is projected to increase to more than 1.1 billion gallons a day in the next two decades.