Thursday, November 15, 2007
7 News Investigations: High and Dry
There are some things in life you expect. The sun will come up in the east. Whatever line you are in will be the slowest, and when you turn on your faucet, water will come pouring out.
WSVN -- Ron Blumstein: "It's a natural resource, and we all think it's going to be around forever, like everything else."
But now ...
Patrick Fraser: "Are we in trouble?"
Ron Blumstein: "We're in trouble."
Big trouble, from big droughts.
Ron Blumstein: "This is really serious."
Possibly a serious effect on every South Floridian.
Ron Blumstein: "If that water is gone, the state of Florida is in bankruptcy."
It's become an indisputable fact. Right now we just don't have enough water for drinking, to saturate our lawns, our golf courses and our farms.
Ron Blumstein: "Our project is there, will be somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion dollars in losses of agriculture."
To some people who see it rain all the time, the water shortage is hard to understand.
After all, we get our drinking water in South Florida from the Biscayne aquifer that sits beneath us, and, right now, it's full of cold, clear water.
To understand the trouble you need to head north, to Lake Okeechobee.
The water from here refills the Biscayne aquifer when it gets low in the dry winter season.
But, right now, it's the lake that's low.
Piers and docks look like they were put in the wrong place.
And, a mile out, land is popping up where it used to be deep under water.
Patrick Fraser: "How bad is it? Well, right now, the lake is five feet below normal, in the good spots. This is a bad spot. Right now the water should be up to here. As you can see, this part of the lake is dry and has been for a while. Common sense tells you, in the coming months, when South Florida needs water, instead what we are going to get is trouble."
Farmers like Paul Orsenigo are already feeling the pain. He has 1,500 acres of crops and needs the water from Lake Okeechobee to keep them alive.
Paul Orsenigo: "If you look at the water resource as a bank account, the reserves are very low."
Paul Orsenigo: "So we have two forces. We have the dry season coming up with a low water supply, not a good situation to be."
Paul is hoping for a rainy fall and winter. Charles Bronson says if we don't get it, get out your wallet.
Paul Orsenigo: "And the food supply is going to get more expensive and less of it because, right now, we're looking at a 40 percent production of the normal food supply."
Next to feel the effects, you and me.
In Miami-Dade and Broward we use 597 million gallons of water a day. That's right, 597 million gallons a day, an astounding amount.
Kelly Marcellus: "You have to be concerned. I mean, I'm about to have three kids, and it affects families everywhere, I think."
You will be affected by year-round water restrictions and rates that could double or triple your water bill over the next few years.
Jennifer Jurado: "What we do anticipate happening is increases in water bills in order to compensate for the alternative technologies that we will have to develop to make sure that never happens."
And, believe it or not, that's a good case scenario. Back at Lake Okeechobee, there is a fear that in the next few months things could go horribly wrong.
Jennifer Jurado: "Salt water intrusion."
Leonard Wheeler is a former state engineer.
He says if Lake Okeechobee gets much lower, look out.
Leonard Wheeler: "Once that level goes down, and the magic number seems to be about eight feet, when that level goes down below that level, salt water, which is denser than fresh water will come in, and it will suck in the wells."
And if we get salt water in the aquifer that we drink from, the cost to make it drinkable would be outrageous. Not a pleasant thought.
Jose Fuentes: "We've never been put in a situation where Lake O. has entered this low a stage at this point in a period of time, as we enter a non-rainy season. This is really serious."
Bottom line, your water bill is going up, the amount of water you use is going down to avoid South Florida being left high and dry.