Graphic of Women with Cloud above her head and word 'stormwater'

Stormwater 101: Frequently Asked Questions

Q.   Where does the water in the LWDD canals come from?

A.   Stormwater (rainfall) is where LWDD receives most of its water supply for the canal system. However, during dry periods with low rainfall, LWDD may rely on the regional system of canals, Water Conservation Areas and sometimes Lake Okeechobee as a source of supplemental water.

Q.   Who owns the water within LWDD’s canals?

A.   In Florida, water is not a property right but rather a resource ‘shared in common’ by landowners. Groundwater and surface water (canals) are held in trust for the benefit of its citizens. Ownership of the land adjacent to a water body does not provide ownership of the water nor the right to use the water. The right to use water is regulated by the State of Florida through regional water management districts. In our area, the entity responsible is the South Florida Water Management District.

Q.   What is a drought?

A.   While it is relatively easy to define what a hurricane or an earthquake is, defining a drought is more subjective. Droughts do not have the immediate effects of floods, but sustained droughts can cause economic stress throughout an area. The word “drought” has various meanings, depending on a person’s perspective. To a farmer, a drought is a period of moisture deficiency that affects the crops under cultivation. Even two weeks without rainfall can stress many crops during certain periods of the growing cycle. To a meteorologist, a drought is a prolonged period when precipitation is less than normal. To a water manager, a drought is a deficiency in the water supply that affects water availability and water quality.

Q.   How does drought affect private and municipal well fields?

A.   The water level in the underground aquifer that supplies a well does not always remain the same. Seasonal variations in rainfall or manual pumping may affect the height of the underground water levels. If a well is pumped at a faster rate than the aquifer is recharged by rainfall or other underground water flows, then the water level in the well can be lowered. This can happen during drought, due to the deficit in the amount of rain.

Q.   Where can I find information about water restrictions in my area?

A.  To promote responsible water use and protect our valuable water resources, Palm Beach County observes the South Florida Water Management District’s Year-Round Landscape Irrigation Conservation Measures Rule. Landscape irrigation is restricted to three days a week before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Several municipalities within the Lake Worth Drainage District’s jurisdictional boundaries have adopted their own, more stringent water and irrigation conservation ordinances. Please check with your local municipality for their specific water use rules. For additional information on current water restrictions, visit the South Florida Water Management District’s website at http://www.sfwmd.gov

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Dry Season Landscapes

Water is a critical factor for healthy and attractive landscapes. The absence of adequate rainfall or irrigation can lead to drought stress and reduced plant growth. Drought stress happens when the plant’s roots cannot absorb the quantity of water needed to support normal growth processes. Even though South Florida receives an annual average of over 50 inches of rain, this rainfall is seasonal. Some plant species encounter drought stress during our dry season which lasts from approximately November to May.

During times of reduced water, plants react by cutting down on photosynthesis and other processes to reduce their water consumption. With progressive water loss, the leaves of some plant species may turn pale or brown. Foliage often withers away, and the entire plant may die. This can be a frustrating and a costly occurrence for a home gardener. So why fight mother nature? There are hundreds of landscape plants that can tolerate drought stress. A few familiar to most gardeners are the Blanket Flower with bright gold and red flowers, Firebush with colorful tube-shaped yellow-and-orange flowers and Buttonwood which can be used as an attractive hedge. Many drought-tolerant flowering plants are a favorite among butterflies and hummingbirds which can add more beauty to your landscape.

Creating a landscape design using drought-tolerant shrubs, trees and flowers can help you avoid plant loss and extensive water-use. For more information on drought-tolerant landscapes, visit the University of Florida’s website at http://www.gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/design/landscaping-for-specific-sites/planning-your-landscape-to-conserve-water.html

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LWDD’s Role In Water Conservation

Florida is fortunate to receive over 50 inches of rainfall a year on average. Most of that amount is concentrated during the six-month rainy season (May through October). While some of the runoff from these rains is discharged to the ocean to avoid flooding, a significant amount soaks into the ground and recharges the freshwater aquifers that supply our drinking water wellfields, lakes and wetlands.

For large populations of people to live safely in south Florida, a massive regional water management system is required to balance the water supply needs of urban areas and water uses of agriculture against the requirement to maintain flood protection. If we did not provide adequate drainage to the region, human health and safety would be jeopardized and extensive property damage could occur. Similarly, if regional groundwater levels were not properly maintained, wellfields would be unable to deliver water to our homes and businesses, or worse yet, the underground inland migration of salt water from the ocean could permanently contaminate the drinking water supply rendering it unsafe for potable uses.

Water conservation efforts by the LWDD help mitigate some of the water supply issues our region experiences. The large network of LWDD canals plays a critical role in conservation by maintaining groundwater levels which in turn supports the water levels in lakes, ponds and wetlands across the region. During dry periods, groundwater levels tend to slowly fall in response to low rain and high evaporation. When this occurs, water managers in the region look to large regional storage areas like the Water Conservation Areas in the Everglades or to Lake Okeechobee as a source of supplemental water. Water from these sources is released into the canal network to raise the level of water in the canals. This water in turn seeps through the sandy soils to recharge the groundwater and returns the water table to its normal elevation thus helping to protect drinking water supplies.

The LWDD’s efforts, to manage drainage canals at appropriate elevations to balance water supply needs and avoid ocean discharges when possible, plays a key role in comprehensive water conservation for South Florida.

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Managing Residential Water Pollution

If it falls on the ground, it can end up in the water

Water is made available to us through a process called the water cycle. The process begins with the evaporation of water from the earth’s surface. The sun heats the water creating a moisture vapor that rises into the atmosphere. When the atmosphere cools, the vapor condenses to form clouds. Eventually, the clouds will release moisture in the form of rain or snow depending on your location. When the rain hits the ground, some of this surface water will infiltrate, helping to recharge the underground aquifer. Some of the surface water will run off into canals. Finally, some of the surface water will be reheated by the sun and the water cycle will continue.

In our area of south Florida, we get our drinking water from surface water supplies. Surface water will runoff roof tops, over lawns and roadways into the storm drains or inlets. As this water travels across the surface it picks up sediment, trash, fertilizers, pesticides and oils washed off streets and lawns. Surface water will eventually flow through underground pipes making its way into the canal system which recharges the surficial aquifer and some municipal wellfields.

Residents can take simple steps to reduce or eliminate residential water pollution. Do not over apply fertilizers or pesticides on lawns and use specific spot treatments rather than general broadcast application methods. Spray on windless days and not before or during rain events. Dispose of unused paint and household chemicals correctly. Never dump them into toilets, sinks, storm drains or canals. Chemicals such as chlorine are very toxic to fish and animals. When draining hot tubs or pools, direct the water away from the canal. Wash cars with a minimum of detergent and wash on gravel or lawns to avoid runoff entering storm drains and canals. Sweep your walks and driveways instead of using a garden hose which can wash litter and pollutants into storm drains and canals. Remember, if it falls on the ground, it can end up in the water.