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South Florida's hydrologic systems

Water quality

The effects of water quality on man

History of the Study
Regional System
Hydrologic Systems
- Importance of Water
- Aquifers
- Water Balance
- Hydrologic Changes
- Quantity Problems
- Resource Limits
> Quality
  >  Effects on man
  -  Big Cypress Swamp
  -  Lake Okeechobee
  -  Everglades
  -  Urban & ag. area
  -  Ground-water
Final Word
PDF version
Contamination of water affects man directly as a health hazard or aesthetic degradation and indirectly as damage to the aquatic environment.

Waterborne diseases - such as typhoid, dysentery, salmonellosis, infectious hepatitis, and eye, ear, and nose infections - constitute a threat in south Florida from inadequately treated drinking water or from contact water sports in unsafe areas. A typhoid epidemic, with more than 100 cases, occurred at a migrant-labor camp in south Dade County in early 1973. The epidemic was apparently caused by contamination of drinking water by sewage. County health departments in south Florida warn that virtually all inland waters, including waterways, canals, ponds, and lakes, are subject to periodic contamination and hence are unsafe for drinking and contact water sports (Klein and others, 1973).

Shellfish concentrate some pathogenic organisms to levels many times greater than those found in the surrounding water. The Florida Division of Health prohibits commercial shellfishing for direct marketing along the entire east coast of south Florida and along parts of the Gulf coast.

The presence of toxic and exotic chemicals in water is another cause of concern for public health authorities. Little is known, however, of the effects of low levels of toxic chemicals in drinking water on health. The increasing numbers and amounts of exotic chemicals released to the environment by industry and agriculture also are cause for concern.

The aesthetic quality of water is also subject to impairment. Many canals in south Florida are visually offensive because of aquatic plants and floating debris and garbage. Dead and dying aquatic plants putrify canals, bays, and coastal areas.

Water is enriched by runoff or by an influx of excessive amounts of nutrients. Excessive amounts of nutrients usually accelerate eutrophication of a body of water. Overenrichment results in prolific growth of algae and other plants and in the ultimate deterioration of water quality. In south Florida, many canals are overenriched, as indicated by excessive blooms of algae and luxuriant growths of water hyacinths and other aquatic plants.

Man has altered and degraded the quality of water over much of south Florida (Crowder, 1974h; Klein and others, 1973). The degree of degradation varies from area to area, but the greatest is along the east coast and the least in the Big Cypress Swamp. Water in the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee has undergone moderate degradation.

Before man began to drain and then develop land in south Florida, water quality depended almost entirely on natural factors such as geology, climate, seawater intrusion, and the life processes of plants, animals, and bacteria. Historical information indicates that quality was good (Tebeau, 1973), probably much the same as it is now in the undeveloped parts of the Big Cypress Swamp (Klein and others, 1973). For this reason, the Big Cypress Swamp can be used as an index of past water quality in south Florida. The drained (western) part of the Big Cypress Swamp, however, is showing early signs of water-quality degradation.

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Last updated: 04 September, 2013 @ 02:04 PM (KP)