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DEP Water Management Quick Links
Outlook Florida’s Watersheds Florida’s Ecosystems Florida’s Lakes Florida’s Springs Florida’s Aquifers Florida’s Estuaries
Where does water come from? Bringing water to the faucet involves many organizations. Protecting water resources, developing water supplies, allocating water, and distributing it to users involves the coordinated effort of local governments, state and federal agencies and utilities.

As the population grows over the next 20 years, demand for freshwater is expected to increase by 26% to 9 billion gallons per day -- approximately 1.8 billion gallons more than we currently use. Protecting our natural resources, while meeting this growing demand, is essential to sustaining a healthy environment and a vibrant economy. During drought, effective and equitable water management is even more important because the lack of rain reduces the available supply of water, while demand - particularly for lawn watering and crop irrigation - increases.

Florida's water management system includes various partners that work together to protect water resources, develop these resources for use, allocate the water among groups of users, and distribute the water from source to spigot.

Lake Okeechobee - April 07

Prompted by a severe drought in 1970 and 1971, policymakers adopted a broad, statewide approach designed to protect and allocate Florida's water. The Water Resources Act of 1972 created five water management districts to regulate the use of water by large-scale consumers, such as public utilities, agriculture and industry.

Working under the general supervision of the Department of Environmental Protection, the Water Management Districts are responsible for allocating water within their designated regions as well as developing and implementing effective plans to minimize and manage the effects of droughts and floods. Getting the water from the source to your faucet is the responsibility of regional water authorities and local utilities.

In addition to overseeing the Water Management Districts, the Department of Environmental Protection's primary responsibilities are to restore, maintain, and protect the quality of water resources, as well as promote the development of new sources of water, such as seawater desalination. This work requires the use of each of the primary management strategies available to the Department.

  • research (including regular monitoring) to help establish water quality standards
  • permitting discharges to protect water quality
  • enforcement of regulations to address activities that negatively affect water resources
  • education: to promote protection, conservation, efficient use and re-use
  • and acquisition and management to preserve the integrity of natural systems

In Florida, water is a public resource. Like the air we breathe, water cannot be privately owned. That's why it's important for all Floridians to conserve water, use water efficiently, and take measures to prevent pollution of our state's water supplies.

Many of these conservation practices are voluntary. However, in times of drought some water restrictions are mandatory. Water management districts can set water restrictions and local governments have the right to impose even stronger restrictions. If your local government does not have its own restrictions, follow those of your water management district.

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What is managed:

Florida’s Watersheds: Water's natural boundaries are commonly identified as watersheds. A watershed is an area of land that acts as a basin for the water flowing and draining within it. Watersheds include water on the surface, such as lakes and rivers, as well as the water flowing underground in springs and aquifers. If water follows natural boundaries, then water resource protection and management should be organized and coordinated along natural boundaries. A watershed management approach does just that. The Department of Environmental Protection plans and implements many of its water resource protection functions by major watersheds.

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Florida’s Ecosystems: Natural systems, particularly wetland ecosystems, can ease the extreme effects of droughts and floods. Originally, more than half of the state was covered by wetlands. The most recognized wetland ecosystem in America is the Everglades - The River of Grass. Wetland ecosystems (including swamps, marshes, bayheads, bogs, cypress domes and strands, sloughs, wet prairies, mangrove swamps, ponds, lakes, creeks, streams and rivers) not only help regulate water flow, but provide a myriad of economic, ecological and aesthetic benefits. Protecting and preserving these natural systems helps generate benefits that we eat, drink and breathe on a daily basis. Florida's Department of Environmental Protection works with the Water Management Districts to protect and restore Florida's wetland systems - from the Everglades to Lake Apopka to the Upper Basin of the St. Johns River to the Panhandle and Tate's Hell Swamp.

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Florida’s Lakes: Florida has more than 7,500 freshwater lakes, including the second largest inland lake in the country - Lake Okeechobee. Lakes sustain an abundant and diverse assortment of aquatic plant and animal species and provide ideal spots for people to swim, fish, and enjoy nature. During drought, water levels in lakes can drop significantly, and some can even dry up completely. While low water levels can cause a decline in plants and wildlife, many are adapted to the cycle of drought. In fact, periodic dry spells can benefit the life of a lake - keeping it healthier and living longer. The Department of Environmental Protection developed one of the first and best new approaches in the country for identifying and cleaning up water pollution. Known as the Impaired Waters Rule, the Department identifies polluted water bodies and then directs resources to clean the dirtiest water bodies first. As part of that effort, the Department establishes Total Daily Maximum Loads (TMDL), which is the maximum amount of pollutant a water body can receive and continue to meet water quality standards. DEP also works with the Water Management Districts and local governments to monitor water quality and perform biological assessments, as well as develop and implement protection plans.

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Florida’s Springs: Florida has over 600 freshwater springs. Most of Florida's springs are located in the northern half of the state. They originate from the Floridian aquifer - a natural underground reservoir that supply close to 90% of the state's drinking water. Florida has 33 "first magnitude" springs, more than any other state in the country, producing 64.6 million gallons of water per day. Nearly 9 billion gallons of water flow out of Florida's springs every day. In 2000, the Department of Environmental Protection implemented an initiative to coordinate existing programs to maximize agency efforts to restore and preserve the state's freshwater springs. The Florida Springs Initiative applies a combination of strategies designed to meet the needs of each site, including regulation, monitoring and research, land acquisition and restoration, and education.

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Florida’s Aquifers: Freshwater - both on the surface and in the ground - is Florida's lifeblood. Surface water, such as streams and lakes, provide scenic beauty, recreation, and water for industry and irrigation. Ground water lies unseen beneath the land in huge reservoirs contained in layers of porous underground rock called aquifers. More than 90% of the state's freshwater supply is pumped from ground water aquifers. Aquifers are natural reservoirs. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection promotes natural recharge of these reservoirs and ensures that supplemental storage does not adversely affect this underground environment.

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Florida’s Estuaries: Brackish water is the mixture of freshwater and seawater. In Florida, brackish water is found naturally - above ground in estuaries (the mouth of rivers) and below the ground in aquifers. During drought, less rain means less freshwater moving from the land toward the ocean. This allows saltwater from the ocean to move inland, farther up rivers and deeper into aquifers. This mixing zone of fresh and saltwater in coastal estuaries and aquifers is the front line in the protection of coastal freshwater resources. Natural systems like coastal wetlands help prevent saltwater intrusion. The storage and percolation of freshwater in these areas helps counter the encroachment of saltwater from the ocean or from below. Under the state's $3 billion land conservation program, Florida Forever, the Department protects large expanses of natural areas where rainwater can permeate the ground to naturally replenish aquifers. These include aquifer recharge areas and coastal wetlands.

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Last updated: October 29, 2007

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