Why Conserve Water
To some of us, Florida seems to be a land with unlimited water resources, but closer examination shows that this is not the case. Population growth has been tremendous in all of Florida and especially in the Tampa Bay area. Early in our history, water supplies were very inexpensive and were located in or close to our towns. As our area grew, we used up our cheap and near-by water supplies. Early in the 20th century, withdrawals in Tampa and Saint Petersburg caused saltwater intrusion and therefore further reduced the locally available supplies. This caused the cities to reach out into rural areas for their water. In the Tampa Bay area, water supplies were either obtained from large inland area well fields or from the Hillsborough River. Initially, we thought that large well fields were a perfect solution, the water was cheap, excellent quality, and had the added benefit of drying out swamps.
As ground-water withdrawals increased and we began to better understand the environmental value of wetlands, the impacts to lakes and wetlands from the regional pumping became devastating. Hundreds of acres of wetlands and dozens of area lakes were dried out. As the City of Tampa's water needs increased, pumping from the Hillsborough River increased to a point where the City took all of the flow in the river. Consequentially, during some times of the year, no fresh water was allowed to flow over the dam to Tampa Bay. As the City's pumping increased and we better understood the environmental impacts to the Bay from reducing the fresh water inflows, we recognized that the river and the bay were being harmed by loss of estuary habitat. The bay depends on a steady clean freshwater diet to create the highly fertile nursery areas and low-salinity habitats that the estuary's ecosystems and sport fisheries. The impacts to the lower river and the bay were aggravated by storm-water pollution.
All of these man-induced problems caused by over-pumping are aggravated by the variable nature of rainfall. Although Florida gets about 50 inches of rainfall on average, in some years we get less than 40 inches and in some years more than 60. In the less than 40 inch years, we see more impacts from pumping and in the more than 60 inch years we see flooding.
So Why Conserve? We have decided to conserve water not just because we need more water to fuel our growth, but because we need more water to fuel ourselves, (people who already live here). We have to develop alternative sources of water both for more people to move here and because we have to change some of the existing sources that are hurting our natural environment. But Why Conserve? Because conservation is one of the least expensive sources of water possible today. Other alternative sources (desalination, other surface waters, reclaimed water, and long distance pipelines) are much more expensive than conservation. In the same way that energy conservation allows a city or utility to postpone building a new generating plant, water conservation allows us to forego construction of a new and likely much more expensive water supply.
What is meant by Conservation?
Modern water conservation simply means being more efficient in using water so that we can do all the things that we want to do with water, but do them with much less water. We want to plant landscapes that require little or no irrigation but still are lush and green and pleasant to look at. We want to install highly efficient plumbing features (toilets, shower and sink faucets, outside irrigation controllers) in our new homes (and retrofit our older homes) so that we use less water for the same purposes. If you buy a new home in our area, your home will most likely have very high efficiency plumbing. If you buy a resale older than 15 or 20 years old, you could benefit from installing higher efficiency plumbing fixtures.
Much of the hard part or work of conservation is mental. We have to change how we think of water from a cheap plentiful unlimited resource to a scarce extremely limited resource. One of the best tools for conservation is inclined or increasing utility rate. Under an inclined rate we pay more per gallon for our water the more we use. For the first 1000 gallons per month we might only pay $2 or $3 per 1000 gallons, but for the next 1000 gallons per month the rate is increased to $4 or $5 per thousand.