Demand for water will more than double in Florida by 2070 if building trends continue along their current sprawling path, bringing another 15 million people to the state, according to a new report .
But if new development clusters together and increases water conservation by 20 percent, according to Florida Today, the state could save 27 percent in development-related water demand, compared to the business-as-usual scenario, a study by University of Florida concludes.
"If we don't change the way we are developing, more than one-third of Florida will be paved over," warned Peggy Carr, a professor at UF's GeoPlan Center, who worked on the analysis on behalf of the nonprofit 1000 Friends of Florida.
Under Florida's current development patterns, the state's total water use will double by 2070, growing to 8 billion gallons per day, a 54 percent increase, the report found.
But under UF's 20 percent conservation, clustered development scenario, water demand would only grow to 6.8 billion gallons per day, a 30 percent increase.
Panhandle counties had the lowest projected demand, followed by northeast Florida. Central Florida would see the greatest demand in all scenarios, because of population and agriculture trends.
"We're concerned that the future looks very dire for Florida, but we have an array of solutions that's available for us," said Cori Hermle, environmental consultant with FDACS’ Office of Agricultural Water Policy.
Those solutions include shifting away from one-time water use to more reuse, the researchers said, and tempering backyard water use.
UF studies have shown at least half of water used by homes is for outdoor irrigation. So the researchers recommend, among other steps, following the Florida Friendly Yards program, using rain barrels and reducing runoff through mulching and porous surfaces.
They say automated irrigation systems can be a significant source of the problem. So residents who use them should use the latest technology and systems that include soil moisture sensors, which can greatly reduce water use.
Based on an Alachua County study prepared at UF, the authors assumed rural and suburban census tracts (ones with less than 2,000 people per square mile) use three times as much water as urban census tracts (those with greater than or equal to 2,000 people per square mile). That's because urban areas have much less turf grass and smaller lawns in general, and therefore use much less water for irrigation.
The UF analysis did not include water use for mining or industrial operations.
So here's how Florida's four main regions fare under UF's status quo and the greater-conservation scenarios:
Under current trends, development-related water demand roughly doubles 2010 levels. Overall demand, including agriculture, will grow from 2.1 billion to 3.2 billion gallons per day, or 2.7 billion under the cluster/conservation scenario.
Even with the assumptions employed in UF's cluster/greater-conservation scenario, only modest water demand savings will be realized because development patterns are likely to remain sprawling and the projected population increase substantial, the researchers found.
"This is where we project things will continue to boom," Carr, of UF, said. "This particular area of Florida still has a relative low density, rate of development, compared to South Florida."
Water demand grows from 2.1 billion in 2010 to 2.9 billion daily gallons in 2070 — or only to 2.5 billion in 2070 under the cluster/conservation scenario.
South Florida was the only region to have a higher water demand from agriculture than development in the 2010 baseline year. Large swaths of land in South Florida are currently under irrigation, including parts of the Everglades Agricultural Area and the nurseries in south Miami-Dade County. In the 2070 scenarios, development demand outstrips agriculture demand, but in the higher-conservation scenario, farming water demand is projected to be greater than in 2010, because more irrigated farmlands are projected to be added in the region by 2035.
Overall water demand grows from 404 million to 651 million daily gallons, or just 516 million gallons under the conservation scenario.
Water demand from development will be significantly greater than from agriculture demand, which will remain relatively flat, because irrigated farmlands aren't likely to be significantly impacted by projected development.
Water demand grows from 655 million to 1.2 million daily gallons, or just 972 million daily gallons under the conservation scenario.
Agriculture demand will stay relatively flat. Development-related demand more than doubles from 2010 under the status quo scenario and decreases 23 percent under the greater-conservation scenario. Projected development does not significantly impact irrigated farmlands.
"With more compact development and more set aside of natural areas, we're going to be able to manage and essentially reduce our water demand by 2070," Carr said. "There are definitely some things we can do to protect our water resources."
This week's report was a followup to one that 1000 Friends released in September, which projected Florida could grow to 33.7 million people by 2070, up from about 20 million today, with a third of the state's land covered with rooftops, roads and other development.
That analysis, also by University of Florida, found that over the next five decades the Sunshine State will grow all over the map, blanketing as much as a third of the state's landscape in development. Growth will center near all the usual hotspots, but especially along the Interstate 4 corridor in Central Florida, followed by urban centers in Northeast and South Florida. The Panhandle, not so much.
The 1000 Friends has called for more funding for greenways and wildlife corridors, more affordable housing, as well as incentives and increased funding to help landowners conserve farmlands and other working landscapes.
"There isn't a need to reinvent the wheel. There are very good programs in place," said Vivian Young, who coordinated the project on behalf of 1000 Friends. "A lot of this comes down to better awareness of simple steps that can be taken."