Groundwater levels remained extremely low throughout most of the Suwannee River Water Management District (District) in January, with 5 monitoring wells dipping to historic lows and 45 wells experiencing new record lows for the month.
The District issued 17 emergency construction permits for dry wells in January, and a total of 174 since April.
The drop in groundwater levels is due primarily to a long-term rainfall deficit, District officials say. In January the District received, on average, 3.66 inches of rainfall, with Levy and Madison counties receiving over 4 inches and isolated areas receiving more than 7 inches. However, the rainfall deficit for the past 24 months is 28.31 inches, and the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center predicts that below-normal rainfall through May will prolong and worsen the drought.
Although river levels in January increased at all monitored sites, record monthly lows were observed at the Santa Fe River near Fort White and the Econfina River near Perry.
In response to the lengthy drought, the District governing board in January issued the agency’s first-ever Phase II Water Shortage Order that includes mandatory water-use restrictions which will take effect on April 7, 2008.
The order includes restrictions, and some exemptions, for all water-use categories including residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural. Meanwhile, District officials urge voluntary conservation, noting that it should be an ongoing practice for all water users.
Most agricultural operations throughout the District have implemented or plan to implement measures to conserve water by increasing the efficiency of their irrigation systems. Farmers continue to work with the District, the Suwannee River Partnership, the Suwannee River Resource Conservation & Development Council’s mobile irrigation lab, and other partners to develop water conservation strategies.
The District also is working with cities and counties, as well as commercial and industrial interests, to solicit input and to coordinate implementation and enforcement guidelines for the restrictions.