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Water and the South Florida Environment

U.S. Geological Survey
Water Resources Investigations Report 24-75

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Increasing population and the concomitant urban sprawl and industrial growth in South Florida has caused concern to agencies involved in land-use planning and water management as to the adequacy of water supplies, determination of water quality and changes in environmental factors. This report describes the physical system, past and present, the environmental problems that exist now, and provides alternative solutions to these problems with emphasis on alternatives that might be used to minimize deleterious effects on the environment of south Florida in years to come.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction and purpose
  • Physical features of South Florida
    • Physiographic provinces
    • Soils
    • Plants and animals
  • Population
  • The water cycle and how man affects it
  • Climate
    • Annual Rainfall
    • Monthly and seasonal rainfall distribution
    • Temperature
    • Evapotranspiration
  • Water and the environment
    • Aquifers and ground-water characteristics
      • Biscayne aquifer
      • Shallow aquifer of southwest Florida
      • Coastal aquifer of Palm Beach and Martin Counties
      • Floridan aquifer
    • Surface water
    • Ground water and surface water are related
  • Water management -- Its effect on the environment
    • History of canal and levee network
    • History of water levels
    • Impoundment
    • Water budgeting for the conservation areas
    • Flow to Everglades National Park
    • Improved drainage
    • Reduction of flow to the ocean
    • How sea-water intrudes
    • Sea-water intrusion--east coast
    • Sea-water intrusion--west coast
  • Water use -- Its effect on the environment
    • Water-use by type
    • Trends in municipal water use
    • Effects of municipal pumpage
  • Relation of water to plant and animal communities
    • Big Cypress--a case study
  • Environmental quality
    • Sources of contamination by man
    • Solid and liquid-waste disposal
    • Disposal into the ocean
    • Water quality
    • How water quality is affected
    • Past water-quality conditions
    • Present water quality
    • Projected water quality
    • Pesticides
    • Thermal loading
  • Alternatives for development
    • Regional planning versus uncontrolled growth
    • Reduction of water losses to the ocean
    • Wastewater management
    • Methods of developing additional fresh water
    • Use of artesian water control sea-water intrusion
    • Water management for southwest Florida

Introduction and Purpose

Ecological problems are a major concern to Florida as well as to the Nation. National attention was focused on these problems in September 1968, when the Port Authority of Dade County began to construct a jetport for supersonic aircraft on a 39-square-mile tract 6 miles north of Everglades National Park and on the east edge of the Big Cypress Swamp. Conservation groups and citizens raised questions as to the effects of a regional jetport and the attendant satellite growth on the water resources and biological communities of the National Park. The Department of the Interior began studies to investigate the situation. One study, Leopold (1969), reported on the unfavorable ecological effects of the attendant satellite growth.

The Secretary of the Interior, Walter J. Hickel, directed the U. S. Geological Survey to study the water resources of the Big Cypress to determine which parts of the Big Cypress contribute the major part of the water necessary to maintain adequate water supplies for Everglades National Park. This was done in a report by Klein and others (1970).

At about the same time, the Departments of Interior and Transportation, the State of Florida, and the Dade County Port Authority concurred in assigning to the Secretary of the Interior certain responsibilities for planning, developing, and coordinating an ecological study of south Florida. A primary objective of the ecological study is to provide information that will assist in the formulation of land-use policy consistent with the protection of the environment of Everglades National Park, the adjacent estuaries, and the public water supplies.

The part of the investigation describing the surface-water and ground-water resources of south Florida was assigned to the Geological Survey. The quantity and quality of surface water and ground water and their interrelation with estuarine and marine waters are here considered. Also considered are the problems, present or future, related to the hydrologic environment that involve human, animal, and plant life. Changes taking place, apparent trends, and projections for the future are also considered, as well as alternatives for water management.

The Geological Survey effort began in January 1971, when aerial photography and selected qualitative hydrologic data were obtained. However, most of the information upon which this report is based was obtained by the Geological Survey in cooperative programs with several local, State, and Federal agencies since about 1940. The long-term support of the U.S. Army, Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service, U.S. Navy, Florida Department of Natural Resources, Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District, Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Collier Counties, Miami and Miami Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Naples and others in the collection of data is gratefully acknowledged.

A prolonged drought throughout south Florida from September 1970 to May 1971 accentuated the importance and timeliness of the study. The drought brought about a readvance of sea-water intrusion in many coastal areas, which necessitated restrictions on water use. The effect of drought on the regional water supply, continued population growth and increased water demands, and deterioration of the water quality in many of the canals and waterways of the urban areas accentuated the need for improved water management and land-use planning.

As a result of the water crisis, the Governor of Florida called a special conference in September 1971. The conference, attended by foremost scientific and government personnel, proposed creation of an agency that would develop and implement comprehensive land and water-use plans for south Florida that would minimize environmental degradation.

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Last updated: 29 November, 2016 @ 10:09 AM(KP)