The Florida city of Zephyrhills is known for its water — notably the bottled water company with the same name. But ironically the city, located northeast of Tampa, is setting off alarm bells for that exact reason. According to a state report, Zephyrhills is expected to run out of drinking water within the next two decades.
Population growth in the Sunshine State has been one of the primary reasons for its water stress. According to the National Association of Realtors, Florida’s population increased by 1.9% in 2022 and is expected to continue to increase in the coming years.
“Visitors to Florida and new residents assume there is no problem with water,” Virginia Haley, president of the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau, said. “There has always just been the assumption about the availability of drinking water that it is going to be there.”
However, this is proving not to be the case. Over 3 billion gallons of water are used in Central and South Florida every day, Southwest Florida TV station WGCU reports — and the strain on the water system is increasing with the new population booms.
Why is this problematic?
The major water use in South Florida is for landscape irrigation, meaning watering lawns and golf courses. Landscape irrigation diverts water that could be otherwise used for drinking, bathing, and indoor household use, and it leaches fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides into local waterways.
As its water continues to dwindle, Zephyrhills is expected to funnel more funds into sourcing water from other sources in the region. So far, the city council approved placing a development moratorium to reduce the strain on its water supply.
This will allow the council the time to consider the future of development in the city as well as how to increase the “impact fees” to cover the pressure that development puts on city services — like the water supply. In turn, this can make development more expensive and potentially decrease the cost efficiency of development in the region.
What’s being done?
Governments in Southern Florida are having to assess current water stocks as well as search for alternative sources of drinking water, such as recycled water or aquifers.
Municipalities may have to be more strict about how much water residents can use for nonessential purposes, like watering lawns, or restrict the time window homeowners can water their lawns to help encourage water conservation.
People can also do their part to help decrease water use. “Wait for the dishwasher to be full before you run out. Do a full load of laundry, not a partial load, and take shorter showers,” said South Florida Water Management District section leader Tom Colios.
Join our free newsletter for cool news and actionable info that makes it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.