Water-Related News

Dry Wells, Sinkholes Put Swiftmud on Defensive

Local water officials may change how they issue permits in response to more than 600 reports of dry wells and the appearance of numerous sinkholes in Hillsborough and Polk counties.

It started earlier this month, when a record-breaking cold spell encouraged farmers to pump huge amounts of water to protect their crops.

Immediately, area residents complained their wells were drying up, sometimes causing thousands of dollars in damage.

And then there are the sinkholes--which damaged homes, clogged traffic (including I-4) and closed an elementary school near Plant City. Area farmers will have to foot the bill for some homeowners whose wells went dry--but only if the well was there first.

It's up to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, to make sure area residents are compensated for damage.

Swiftmud itself is on the defensive for not doing more to prevent the damage, with local residents complaining and the St. Petersburg Times editorializing on the subject.

The agency has the power to curb water use if aquifer levels drop too low. But Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix says no one expected a 13-day deep freeze.

"This was an absolutely unprecedented event that we had. And yes, we certainly understand that we're going to have to take a hard look at all of our strategies and come up with solutions to make changes in the future," she said.

Swiftmud is forming a special task force to deal with the issue, and may change how it issues permits in the future.

As for the sinkholes, homeowners and taxpayers will have to foot the bill for repairs. According to Felix, it's harder to draw a direct causal link between sinkholes and water use.

Hear more about the fight over water on Florida Matters, Friday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m. on WUSF 89.7 FM. (podcast at wusf.org)

Source: WUSF Jan. 20, 2010