Fr. George and Robin Kennedy, Care for Creation Ministry
Florida is my home. I was born, raised, went to college, and have lived in our great state all of my adult life. As a child, our family vacations were in-state as we visited one water attraction after another in my father’s un-airconditioned 1953 Buick.
Florida’s water attractions were the stock in trade of early tourism. In the 40s, 50s and 60s those attractions included spring-fed Silver Springs (glass-bottomed boats and alligator wrestling); Weeki Wachee (famous underwater mermaids); and Cypress Gardens (azalea gardens and acrobatic water skiers). Did you paddle your canoe or swim or camp at High Springs or on the Suwanne River? Did you go tubing on the Ichetucknee or fish the waters of Cedar Key? Did you learn to ski on one of Florida’s many lakes? Water was such a part of our tourism and recreation, but it also was part of daily life.
It never occurred to us then, as it does now, that there might not one day be enough clean water to bathe in, drink, or swim in, or that rising sea levels could invade our water supply and city boundaries. We are so used to turning on the tap and clean water flows, we never give too much thought to the question: “Where does this all come from?” And as our natural water attractions are replaced by water parks, did you ever wonder where Water World, Adventure Island, Discovery Cove, Blizzard Beach, even Legoland Florida Water Park, get their water? And a lot has changed since 1953, not only in terms of tourism. Did you know that Florida is now the third-most populated of the States? Where does all the water come from to supply all these thirsty souls? Water comes from the aquifers, water management areas, rivers, and the like.
Florida’s aquifer is made up of two primary systems. The one that supplies our area of West Central Florida is the nearly 100,000-square-mile Floridan aquifer, which encompasses the entire state of Florida and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina. These are areas that have experienced their own growth and need for clean water. I am sure you have heard about the history of “water wars” in the western U.S. – did you know that preliminary “water wars” are beginning between Florida, Georgia, and Alabama? The core issue in all “water wars” is limited supply in the face of rising demand.
Here in Tampa, the Hillsborough River is our primary drinking water source. Did you know its water comes from the Green Swamp? The Green Swamp’s 560,000 acres of wetlands, flatlands and low ridges are bounded by prominent sandy ridgelines. Rainwater drains across the surface to create the headwaters of four major rivers: Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha, Hillsborough and Peace. The area also collects rainwater that trickles down through the soil to replenish the Floridan aquifer system, the primary source of drinking water for most Floridians. Because the Green Swamp region is elevated above outlying areas and the underground aquifer rises very close to the land surface, the region functions as the pressure head for the aquifer (pressure to move the water into the natural springs). Protecting the Green Swamp is vital to protecting the quality and quantity of Florida’s water supply.
All of is this is connected. If those rivers were to stop flowing, places such as Tampa will depend on the aquifer (ultimately). As more wells dig deeper into the aquifer, the result is potentially withdrawing water at a rate faster than the aquifer can be replenished. When too much water is pumped from the ground, the level of water that flows freely through the porous limestone is reduced. If that level falls too far, the pressure that maintains flow through the system and to the state’s hundreds of springs weakens. While not dry yet, Silver Springs in Ocala once flowed at a rate of 500 million gallons per day, but aquifer over-pumping has reduced its output by 60 percent. That’s Silver Springs, not Tampa, right? But we are connected by the aquifer. What happens in the Green Swamp and the aquifer is but a harbinger of what can happen on the Hillsborough River.
The World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation is Sept. 1. Let us pray for protection of our water sources and water availability for all people, believing our Creator “does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us…for he has united himself definitive to our earth, and his Love constantly impels us to find new ways forward.” (Laudato si’ 13; 245)
Next Week: The Future of Clean Water in Florida! Want to learn more about Florida’s interconnection of surface water, rain water, springs, aquifers, and rivers? Watch the first six minutes of “Troubled Waters: Consequences and Connections”