Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Sunday, April 5, 2009

South Florida Agricultural Water Waste

April 3, 2009

Working in Kissimmee cow country, I am seeing uncontrolled, unmetered flowing wells more than occasionally. I have been on only a half-dozen large properties here, and only on small portions of them, but even so have observed flowing wells on two of them plus others on ranches I pass by on my rounds here. I videoed one flowing well today that has an overflow with a cross-sectional area of appr 3 sq in. The other flowing well seems to have an equivalent flow rate.

Is there a useful way to estimate flow rate from a cross-sectional area under the force of gravity?

Driving around the Kissimmee countryside I see other water wasting ways. I see overhead irrigation during high-80s temps with a goodly wind blowing 10kts or so (got video). What is the efficiency of that? How much of that water is actually reaching crop roots?

Moving westward and up onto the Lake Wales Ridge south of Lake Placid, one of the citrus groves I am sampling for sand skinks (Neoseps reynoldsi) uses mostly low-to-the-ground plastic spray irrigation technology (a good thing). The water conservation potential of this relatively expensive(?) micromanagement technology is compromised in some locations, though, where irrigation distribution pipe ends are not properly closed off. I videoed one today that had no end crimp at all, so water was just pouring out onto the ground, perhaps 1 sq in of water during the entire irrigation period (? hrs). Plus I got video of other water waste points in the grove. Big name owner of that grove, too.

I suppose I need to start carrying a calibrated one-gallon bucket and a stopwatch so I can get an idea of the rates of these examples. My sample size is very small, of course, but alone it indicates a third of the ranches in South Florida have flowing wells wasting possibly trillions of gallons of potable water annually. But how much is it, really? Is it large enough to meet a significant portion of current and projected water shortages for south Florida? Is it enough to kill or delay by decades a pipeline?

And is it enough to give moral pause to the Big Liars who want to shunt North Florida waters down to South Florida? Doubtful. Is it enough to help convince a hearing officer that competent water quantity management in South Florida is more appropriate at this time than piping North Florida's water southward? Well now, that depends upon the geography of the judge.

I envision a documentary, yup, like An Inconvenient Truth, that exposes the profligate waste of potable waters in this agricultural tragedy of the commons. I can see Al Gore, Jane Fonda, ... or me castigating the bad guys using numbers and charts, while in the background you see video clips of wasting water like the videos I obtained today. Oh, and in a bold legend obviously related to each video clip at hand, the name of the perp with date (and time stamp to counter charges of libel) so we can kick ass and name names.

The videos will start out with trickles of sweetwater pissin' in the wind, move up to inch-diameter pipes puddling up pools on barren sand, elevate to rusted-out 8-inch gushing artesian wells discharging into an empty grass field and finally graduate on to worse, whatever that is! Niagara?

The video will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are many uncontrolled wells in South Florida, and that these flowing wells exist largely to make certain that cattle have enough water to drink. This is not a joke; I wrote this on April 3rd. These wells tap into an artesian aquifer (Biscayne or Floridan), an aquifer that is in a long-term deficit situation, and their current sole purpose is to water cattle.

Generally speaking, flowing wells are incompetently maintained wellheads. All these wellheads started out with control valves. If they are free-flowing now, it is only because the land manager did not maintain them properly. These wellheads were not kept painted to prevent rust, they were not lubricated where appropriate and their bearings or seals were not replaced in time. Their owners failed to maintain them properly, so valves and meters rusted out, and rust even ate through wellhead casings. In many cases farmers then knock off the tops of the wellheads and let artesian water flow freely.

I agree that the cattle must be watered, but do not agree that it is ok for the wellheads to be rusted out and free-flowing, have no control devices, be unmetered and be otherwise allowed to depleted the artesian aquifer unfettered. This is obviously an incompetent form of water management, and south Florida should be ashamed of it, but more importantly it is an incompetent justification for taking north Florida waters southward.

Why is this occurring? Why are so many South Florida wells allowed to bleed down the Floridan and Biscayne Aquifers in such a wasteful manner? Why are South Florida farmers not required to control their water use when residential and industrial South Florida users conversely are required to do so? Do the SFWMD Rules exempt farmers from flowing well regulations or does the SFWMD just not enforce existing and otherwise adequate rules? If the latter is the case, an administrative hearing challenge to SFWMD might be interesting.

It would seem to me to be easier to control non-compliance wells than to try to hurdle all the barriers to diverting north Florida waters southward. Since this does not seem to be the case, perhaps the agricultural industry is perceived by south Florida political strategists as having more political power than north Florida water conservationists. If so, they likely conclude that it is easier to wrest north Florida water than force competent water management on south Florida farmers.

Perhaps south Florida farmers are simply incapable of competent water management with their current attitude and regulatory framework? That was certainly the case regarding the indiscriminate and profligate use of long-lived chlorinated pesticides back in the '60s and '70s, but the federal government (SCS, DOF, county agents, land grant universities, etc.) went to work educating farmers. As a result, farmers learned and adopted better ways, and I maintain that they can do so again, this time with water conservation.

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