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Nation & World

Florida Faces Vanishing Water Supply

Grass grows on what was once the bottom of Florida's Lake Okeechobee, June 1, 2007, amid a drought.
Grass grows on what was once the bottom of Florida's Lake Okeechobee, June 1, 2007, amid a drought.

Drought has hit many parts of the country, including Florida, where the giant Lake Okeechobee became so dry and so low, dry grasses on the lake floor caught fire. But the weather isn't the only reason for the state's water woes, the author of a new book says.

"Florida's groundwater has been overallocated — not just in South Florida, but all over the state," says Cynthia Barnett, author of Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern United States. "In addition, we just haven't taken conservation as seriously as other parts of the country."

Much like Las Vegas in the early 1990s, Florida seems to be in denial about the need to conserve water, she tells Renee Montagne.

"Many homeowners associations in Florida not only require sod, but they have guys in golf carts driving around measuring the shade of green," Barnett says. And if you don't have the right shade, you get a nasty letter from the homeowners association and a fine."

Farmers are also big water consumers, using nearly half of Florida's public supply, Barnett says.

In some parts of the state, city wells have been closed because of saltwater intrusion — sea water creeps in when freshwater aquifers drop too low.

That problem isn't limited to Florida. Several cities along the East Coast are struggling with it, too.

"Water-rich states are beginning to really worry about water supply and water conflict," Barnett says. "Several of these conflicts are headed for the Supreme Court."

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