Record drought may lead to mandatory water restrictons
All water users within the Suwannee River Water Management District (District) are urged to curb any unnecessary uses of water in response to the ongoing drought.
The 12 months ending in March were the driest since 1932; and the rainfall deficit, now at 15.7 inches, continues to take its toll on rivers, springs, and groundwater levels.
By the middle of April flows at all Suwannee River gauges fell back to the lowest 10 percent of flows, with many gauges setting new low flows for the time of year.
Seventy percent of groundwater monitor wells reported record low levels for March and nine wells reported all-time lows, including a well with data beginning in 1948. The low groundwater levels resulted in low flow in springs across the area.
“In most areas in our District groundwater levels are near or below those seen in the 2002 drought, which until this past year was the worst drought on record in terms of groundwater,” said Megan Wetherington, District senior professional engineer.
“The lowest flow on record was recorded at Poe Springs, and Levy Blue Spring currently is no longer flowing,” Wetherington added. “Manatee and Fanning Springs are also low.”
Wetherington said there is little chance of the District coming out of the drought in the next several months, short of an unusual weather event or tropical system.
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center predicts the drought to persist or intensify in most parts of the southeast in the coming months.
“We have entered the dry season, and what rainfall we typically get is less effective in terms of groundwater recharge because of losses to heat and vegetation,” Wetherington said. “We can expect to see the rivers set new lows by June, as well as further decreases in spring flows if we don’t get some help from the weather.”
Jon Dinges, District director of Water Supply and Resource Management, said residents and others within the District are under mandatory limits on lawn and landscape irrigation and water use permit holders are required to implement water conservation plans. However, during these drought conditions, the District may need to put in place additional measures to reduce demands on water supplies.
District staff is evaluating the need to require mandatory water use restrictions for all users in response to long-term drought conditions that continue to worsen.
“There is a need for everyone to reduce water use,” said District Acting Executive Director Charlie Houder. “We will continue to monitor hydrologic conditions closely and will prepare to declare a water shortage order if conditions do not improve quickly.”
Under the water shortage order, restrictions and some exemptions would apply to residential, agriculture, commercial, and industrial users. Water shortage restrictions are intended to reduce the demand on water supplies during drought. Once drought conditions have improved, the District would remove the restrictions.
For now, a water shortage advisory is in effect, which urges all users to eliminate unnecessary uses of water.