Plant City, Florida - With fields red with ripe berries, growing strawberries can be a sweet business.

But feelings toward farmers soured in 2010, when frigid temperatures had growers pumping millions of gallons of water over 11 straight days.

That lowered groundwater levels and sinkholes popped up throughout eastern Hillsborough County, damaging homes and roads.

"Over 140 sinkholes opened up in the Dover area in 2010 because of agricultural pumping," says USF Geologist Mark Stewart.

And could that heavy pumping from back in 2010 play a part in sinkhole formation today? Stewart says yes: heavy pumping can set the stage for sinkholes in the future.

"The pumping doesn't necessarily set off the ones that are going to go, it might make some ready to go," explains Stewart. "So they'll go some point in the future."

While farmers are big players when it comes to water use, the entire region also plays a part. Typically, most sinkholes appear in the dry month of May, when withering lawns prompt homeowners to water.

"We are the demand," says Stewart, pointing towards himself. "When we open the tap, Tampa Bay Water has to send us the water... so if we use a lot of water in May, we might be increasing the chance for sinkholes."

After the 2010 freeze, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWIFTMUD) enacted new rules for farmers in the Dover area, aimed at preventing the type of sinkhole and well damage that occurred during that freeze event.

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