Florida Water Supply Safety - Seawater Contamination into Aquifers

Danger due to saltwater seawater seeping into the Aquifers, and depletion of the Aquifers due to massive citrus irrigation

  • Florida is a very low-lying State.
  • For decades, enormous amounts of groundwater has been pumped out to provide drinking water, water for business and industrial processes, amazing amounts of irritagion for citrus crops, and for many other purposes.
  • That removal of groundwater has been much faster than rain has replenished it, which has resulted in the Water Table continuously dropping in altitude.
  • When that Water Table drops below Sea Level, the very salty ocean water seeps through sand and other underground materials INWARD, which then PERMANENTLY contaminates the previously usable Fresh Water supplies.
  • Once this happens, it is expected to take many thousands of years before the situation can naturally cleanse itself.
  • Government Agencies have known that such contamination has been occurring for more than 20 years, where many thousands of domestic and Municipal water wells near the ocean have become contaminated and therefore permanently unusable.
  • Since water removal rates have even increased in recent decades, this indicates a CERTAINTY that MOST or ALL of Municipal water wells in southern Florida will soon be PERMANENTLY contaminated, meaning that south Florida will then have NO credible source of water for the millions of people and businesses in many hundreds of cities and towns.

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in September 1997.

Soon, there is certain to be extensive contamination of all the fresh water supplies in South Florida by salty seawater. Massive removal of ground water, particularly by irrigation of agricultural citrus growers, has lowered the water table (the level of groundwater) to now often be well below sealevel. This causes the physically higher saline seawater to seep landward through underground soils toward the State's municipal water wells. This will represent a disaster on a scale that our country has never faced before. The consequences will be FAR greater than from any hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, or other such disasters. Even far greater than the effects of Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina. Something must be done, as soon as possible, to try to limit the scale of the disaster. It is already too late to avoid it completely, but prompt actions now could certainly help.

Recent Note: Jan 2009

This presentation describes some extremely dark and frightening facts. For many years, I was not aware of any obvious solution for Florida residents about these coming disasters which seem unavoidable. However, during 2008, I discovered a way, and then Engineered a system, where safe drinking water can be captured from the humidity in the air, simply, quickly and at minimal expense. There are several variants now presented in a set of four web-pages, which will generally produce from 10 gallons to 250 gallons of absolutely pure (distilled) water every day. Things like watering a lawn or irrigating a crop are probably not realistic by those methods, but water for survival and cleaning and bathing should now be fairly quickly and easily possible when these events start to occur. The most comprehensive description and explanation of the system is at Pure Water Supply for Third World Villages, with the two presentations that are more directly suited to Florida being linked from that presentation. All four of those links are at the very end of this presentation.

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Recent Note: June 2007

It really is astounding! I first composed this page and uploaded it to the Internet ten years ago! In recent years, official records have been becoming available to the public that make clear that officials have known that this has been happening for at least 15 years! They seem to rather casually record that the water from water well G-432 in the Biscayne Aquifer has been increasing in Chloride concentration (the technical description of salinity or sodium chloride) by 128 ppm each year. And that well G-901 in the same Aquifer is rising at 117 ppm per year. Or G-1435 in the same Aquifer is rising at 266 ppm per year. Many wells in the Lower Tamiami Aquifer also show substantial increases in salinity. (DATA was only presented up to 1998!) It seems as though none of those bureaucrats are aware that a TOTAL chloride content of 250 ppm is the Florida (FDEP, 1993) limit of what is considered safe to drink! And they are discussing INCREASES EACH YEAR of comparable amounts to that!

They describe that well L-1691 had MAXIMUM water levels (in the Lower Tamiami Aquifer) of 5.07 feet BELOW SEA LEVEL! Twelve of 20 continuously monitored wells of that Aquifer were regularly below sea level, nearly continuously! In their Report, they seem proud of themselves for being able to announce that there are only minimal chloride increases! Part of the Water-Table Aquifer has apparently become empty of water and the ground has collapsed as a result! They describe well L-1998 in the Sandstone Aquifer that was 31.81 feet BELOW sea level! They describe well L-742 in the Mid-Hawthorn Aquifer that had a MEAN AVERAGE WATER LEVEL OF 76.02 FEET BELOW SEALEVEL! They talk about 400 ppm or 700 ppm or 900 ppm without any special note! The Surficial Aquifer was only 2.5 feet below sea level. The huge Biscayne Aquifer (G-2395) was 13.86 feet below sea level (very near Fort Lauderdale). In Miami-Dade, wells G-432 and G-901 each had chloride levels of 2,200 ppm in 1995!

They refer to a "saltwater interface" as being where the ocean's water meets the fresh water of the aquifers. Well G-1435 is considered to be on the seaward side, with a chloride content of 8,000 by 1998, while the nearby well G-1473 was still considered low in 1998. Well G-1241 was recorded as at 4,500 ppm. Well G-854 near Fort Lauderdale was at 2,400 ppm in 1999.

Here is one of their graphs for a specific well, L-738. Given that they mention that the maximum chloride concentration for drinkable water is 250 ppm (below the middle of this graph) what are we to conclude regarding the fact that since 1985, the water essentially NEVER qualified as safe to drink? This situation seems to be true of the majority of the wells they continue to monitor! Why are we still spending taxpayer money paying people to make such reports on wells that are clearly unusable for safe drinking water? Just to give them something to do? They haven't actually DONE anything in the more than two decades they have been fully aware of this problem developing!

Does anyone there actually possess a brain? That Report was back around ten years ago, when I was first aware of this coming catastrophe, but where I was not permitted access to any official records (such as that Report that already then existed!). This Report that I found only recently is clearly never meant to be read by the public, as it rarely actually says anything! It is clearly a "required publication" regarding bureaucrats keeping their jobs!

But the whole situation is astoundingly similar to New Orleans in the years before Katrina. HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE KNEW what was certain to happen, but everyone just "did their job" and no more! And then AFTERWARDS, with a city of New Orleans that has not even had most of destruction cleaned up yet (TWO YEARS LATER), they must eventually start to realize that that city will NEVER again actually be a city. South Florida has clearly been in this exact same situation for at least the ten years that I have known about it, and apparently for a lot longer by the comments of those Report writers. Yet, NO ONE has spoken up or done anything. Do you think that anyone having any authority actually cares? It's hard to see!

If you live in that area, I suggest an "experiment"! Try calling City Officials in whatever city you live in, to find out "Which of our Municipal water wells have been shut down already due to saltwater incursion?" If you can, first learn actual well identifying numbers, so they really KNOW they have to answer you. It is a simple question, and as taxpayers there, you deserve an answer to it! In fact, you might ask another, about which wells do they expect to still be operational ten years from now? I have to wonder if they could honestly tell you that any are certain to still have drinkable water. If Florida officially specifies 250 ppm maximum for drinkable water, and that report from several years ago merrily mentions wells that have 8,000 ppm or 4,500 ppm or 2,200 ppm, if anything, the problem may be WORSE than I thought it was when I composed the following article ten years ago!

Yet another newer Recent Note, February 2008.

The attitudes of the bureaucrats who are responsible for all those seemingly meaningless Reports continues! Ten years after this presentation began being on the Internet, I have just received an extensive series of very long e-mails regarding these subjects. The author of those notes seems to think very little of Physicists, as he ripped to shreds virtually every statement made in this presentation!

I am usually open to criticism, and this person seemed to give some indication of familiarity with some of the subjects involved. So I was actually looking forward to both learning some things and also improving this presentation as a result.

HOWEVER! The author of those many very long and sometimes technical notes NEVER gave any indication of why I should have accepted his view or logic as superior to what I had researched over a period of a number of months (ten years ago)! He not only did not provide any Title of position, but not any indication that he had ever even had any education in a related field! In fact, he seemed to even make an intentional point to not even ever identify his last name! The single bit of information that he ever provided me, even after my politely asking, was his first name! In his consistent way of insulting and denigrating me in every way, he even told me that he would NOT provide his name or educational background or official position "because my presentation was so totally a failure that he felt I could not correctly use that information!" Apparently, Physicists are not even able to correctly spell someone's name or title!

The author of all those notes certainly demonstrated an extremely good ability to "spin" whatever it was that he wanted to say. I mentioned to him that as a Research Physicist, I am used to actually dealing with facts, and not always of receiving very biased presentations of facts to seem to ALWAYS make his own organization appear to be totally perfect and faultless! I got every impression that this person is part of the USGS, as he NEVER would admit that anyone in the USGS had ever done the slightest thing incorrectly! And he sent me graphs for specific wells where he said that the USGS had extensively changed river water flows so that huge amounts of new additional fresh water was arriving at a specific well. Those graphs which he provided did NOT go down, but most simply leveled off at a particular salinity rate. He went on and on at how wonderful the USGS is in accomplishing such amazing things, but I did not understand. I asked that if they added so much new fresh water as to double the fresh water flow rate, shouldn't that result in the salinity level dropping to exactly half of before? Twice as much water but the same amount of salt, seems to me to necessarily result in that, but then the graphs that he was so proud of seemed not to show the miraculous things he was bragging about. In fact, with NO reduction at all of salinity level over ten years, it would seem to me that such graphs suggest that they had not even close to accomplishing what they wanted to brag about! Gasp! A failure??? He clearly did not appreciate my non-acceptance of the spin he was trying to apply.

It was also amusing when he had to refer to any location where salinity has greatly INCREASED even when the USGS had spent millions of dollars to "mitigate" the situation. He would NOT ever admit then that the USGS had not fully succeeded! He would ONLY say that "more work needs to be done" (he said that a LOT!) Nearly everyone else recognizes that as Bureaucratese for "we failed"!

He DID often mention something that I REALLY would have loved to have received, but he made a point to never provide me with this. It is a MAP (of Florida) which shows the (curved, he said) interface line where the seawater and freshwater are currently in contact. I had never realized that they had even created such maps, due to the seeming incompetence suggested by those Reports I had studied years before, and when he often referred to them as regularly used, I mentioned that I thought that the Residents of Florida deserve to be able to see such maps. In fact, I suggested using a sequence of 15 yearly maps (which he seemed to imply exist) to make a mini-movie, where Residents of Florida might then be able to see a clear graphic that would show WHERE seawater is advancing inward (bad) or where the amazing accomplishments of the USGS have pushed the saline water back toward the ocean (good). I actually have great personal doubts that such maps would ever show such miraculous achievements! But if the USGS has demonstrably accomplished such things, then the Residents of Florida should see the actual evidence that their efforts have been having positive effects. I even mentioned to him that if such maps would show such things, then the Residents of Florida would appreciate seeing them to possibly calm them that the USGS has the situation in control and some of the concerns of this presentation may not be as terrible as I have suggested from the evidence which I have had access to. He seems to feel that the Residents of Florida do not deserve to see such maps! I absolutely disagree about that!

In fact, now that we know that such maps exist, if there is someone out there who knows how to do a Freedom-of-Information-Act procedure to obtain them, I would certainly be willing to add them to this web page. His comments seem to suggest that there are many such maps, possibly annual since around 1985 or 1990. If we could see in an active graphic that in YOUR County the saline water is advancing or receding or stationary, this is important information which YOU should be allowed to see!

Even though he would never provide me with such maps, his comments seemed to indicate that the ENTIRE interface line between freshwater and seawater is ALL ALREADY INLAND some distance. Now I wonder how far that is? Clearly, before civilization and advanced activities developed, the rainwater always moving outward from the land would certainly have then caused the interface line to always be slightly out under the ocean. So his comments seem to suggest that the situation may even be worse than I had earlier thought!

I attempted to explain to him that I am VERY receptive to improving or correcting this presentation in any ways possible, but that I cannot be altering the results of many months of serious research just on the word of some person who will not even identify his last name or title or education or position! He certainly seemed to have access to some graphs and some technical data that the general public probably does not have access to, which seems to imply that maybe his information might be of some value. But the fact that he made so many attempts to spin every conversation to trying to make the USGS seem absolutely perfect and pristine, and his extreme efforts at keeping himself totally anonymous, pretty much eliminated any chance of actually being able to use anything he mentioned here, as there is no way to either confirm or deny such statements with known facts.

One of the criticisms he dumped on me a dozen times was that he insisted that I had no idea what wells I was referring to. That was partially true! In 1997, when I read in such Reports the references to code-letter identifiers of specific wells, it took me quite a while to find information which gave the location of such wells. Often, the actual latitude and longitude were NOT available to me but instead were references to a well being in a specific well-field or at a specific location in a specific aquifer. In the standard way that a Physicist approaches such things, I then obtained the locations of Municipal water wells (which was far easier to find!) and often found that a Municipal well was essentially in the same physical location as the code-letter identified wells in the Reports. I admit that I then assumed that there was a close relationship between the two, or even that they might be the same actual wells. This recent critic severely ripped into me in saying that they are NOT the same wells, and that all the code-letter wells are all USGS test wells. That may be, but there is still no actual data that proves that.

Residents of Florida occasionally send me copies of newspaper articles which tell about some Municipal water well being shut down due to having become contaminated by seawater. Several such newspaper reports seem to have discussed Municipal water wells just north of Miami. This extreme critic of mine seems to deny that any such Municipal well has EVER been shut down, even saying that it would be a very terrible thing if that would ever happen. (He then added that the USGS is always so competent that they will guarantee that will never happen!) So apparently, newspaper reporters have all been dead wrong in reporting such things!

So, conceding here that no one who has ever worked for the USGS has ever done the slightest thing incorrectly, and none have ever done anything that could be described as "wrong", we will now proceed!

The Problem

Florida's terrain is generally rather low, with the entire state averaging only about 90 feet above sea level. The southern half of the state is generally even lower. The Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico surround the southern half of Florida with their saltwater.

Rain falling from storms over Florida lands on the ground. A combination of three different things then happens to it. (1) Some of it evaporates back up into the atmosphere. (2) Some of it runs off via streams, rivers and lakes to the ocean and Gulf. (3) Some of it seeps into the ground and forms the freshwater supply for ALL the wells of the southern half of the state. A substantial portion of this underground water becomes stored in natural underground structures known as aquifers, specifically the very large Biscayne Aquifer. Another substantial supply is in the similar Floridan Aquifer. These aquifers are essentially porous materials (like sand or sandstone) surrounded by relatively impermeable materials (like clay or shale) that effectively act as giant natural underground storage tanks. The surrounding materials are NOT absolutely water-tight, so water can leak out of or into the aquifers, depending on hydrostatic pressures and other factors.

These aquifers are the ONLY significant sources for the fresh water supply for the southern half of Florida.

Traditionally, the amount of rain falling on the state of Florida has supplied plenty of fresh water to keep this underground supply continuously replenished. For example, the Everglades areas receive about 55 inches of rain per year. The situation was always such that the water table (the depth at which the top of this underground seeping moisture is) was always substantially above sea level. Around the perimeter of the state, areas soaked with this fresh water had this higher water table than the adjacent areas under the ocean or gulf that is soaked with salty ocean water. Everyone knows that water seeks its own level. (Technically, this is that hydrostatic pressure stuff.) The result was always that the fresh water areas had greater water pressure and the water tended to slowly seep OUTWARD toward the ocean and gulf. This situation was fine, and stable. For millions of years, this was the case. (The situation is complicated somewhat by the different densities of fresh and salt water, but essentially, the above description is accurate.)

In the past several decades, enormous amounts of fresh ground water have been pumped out of wells all over southern Florida. The population of south Florida has increased tremendously during the past fifty years, and all those people need fresh water for their lives. A truly enormous amount of the fresh groundwater has been pumped out in the center of the State and was and is used for irrigation of the fruit trees in the multitude of orchards of central Florida. A result has been a wonderfully successful fruit industry that has made Florida famous and brought huge amounts of profits into the state.

By the early 1990s, numerous investigations had confirmed that the enormous removal of fresh water had lowered the water table, to a point where some parts of the water table were already BELOW sea level. More than ten years ago, scientists already knew that seawater had already intruded into some areas of the Biscayne Aquifer.

During the 1990s, even greater amounts of water were pumped out to irrigate an ever growing, ever more profitable fruit industry in Florida. This continuing process continues to lower the water table level. This is the making of a true disaster.

There was already a similar experience involving massive pumping of groundwater for irrigation of crops in California. In the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s, farmers had pumped SO much water from the fresh water supply under one of the main growing valleys (the San Joachim valley) there, that the land itself was no longer adequately supported and it has subsided (collapsed and lowered) over 30 feet!

If such incredibly massive water usage is occurring in Florida, the growing fields themselves could be far below sea level within a few decades, and eventually the Ocean or Gulf would claim that area for its own. Obviously, that cannot be allowed to occur! Hopefully, the farmers who are pumping all that irrigation water out, can look past the great profits they are presently making, and can become aware of the California experience and will take steps to avoid having the salty ocean or gulf flood in to create a huge inland saltwater sea in the middle of Florida.

Unfortunately, actual farmers are never the ones who make such decisions any more. Some Executive in a New York City Penthouse does, and he neither knows or cares about the implications, except as it affects the immediate profits of his company.

Amazingly, those farmers who irrigate all of those orchards actually have practical selfish reasons for keeping the water table depleted! It turns out that when irrigation is used for many years, the very slight natural salinity of that water gradually accumulates natural salts on the surface and in the water in the underground aquifers. Farmers have discovered that, if they allow the water table to rise to too near the surface, their plants are seriously adversely affected by that salt and their crop productions drop off drastically. Therefore, those orchards in central Florida would NOT want the aquifers to naturally replenish themselves because their crop yields would be hurt, and therefore their profits!

Interestingly, I have been often viciously attacked for blaming the citrus growers with this text! Writers often have not actually researched the subjects and they generally have their own pet causes to blame, and they always insist that THEY are right and I am wrong in blaming citrus! There is actually PLENTY of blame to go around, and yes, massive increases in population and in development of sub-divisions and factories and all the new roads and golf courses and all the rest ARE partially responsible. However, people do not seem to realize the massive scale that irrigation is in the United States!

For the whole United States, in 1970, 130 billion gallons of water was used for irrigation EVERY DAY!. That figure rose to 137 billion gallons per day by 2000. It is not going to happen, but imagine if Congress demanded that ALL irrigation ended! There are 300 million of us in this country, so if irrigation ended, we would each have an extra (137,000 million / 300 million) 450 gallons of fresh water available to us every day! This gives an idea of how massive the use of irrigation is! Worldwide, far over half of ALL available freshwater is used for irrigation!

Specifically in Florida, in the entire State, there were (in 2000) 2.06 million acres of land that was irrigated. In Florida, each of those acres was given an average of 2.34 acre-feet of water per year. This is roughly 2,100 gallons of water PER ACRE PER DAY.

Of this total of 4.29 billion gallons of irrigation water given to Florida fields every day, 2.11 billion gallons was obtained from surface sources (rivers, streams, lakes) and 2.18 billion gallons was removed from the ground (primarily from Aquifers).

By comparison, ALL public water utilities (including all cities and towns and all the large cities in Florida) only used about 1/5 as much water! Rural domestic water wells used far less than that, around 1/30 as much as irrigation used. Industrial, commercial and all other miscellaneous consumption of fresh water was around 1/3 what irrigation used.

Electric power generating plants used an amount of water comparable to irrigation. However, NONE of that was from underground Aquifers, all being from lakes and rivers, and most was soon returned to those lakes and rivers, without having been changed or contaminated at all, only having been used for cooling purposes (with some being evaporated into the atmosphere as pure water vapor).

This official data shows that irrigation removes far more water, especially from the underground Aquifers, than all other usages combined! And since farmers use pesticides and fertilizers, once they have used it, all that water is contaminated and can not be used again. It is gone from being useful!

The situation we are concerned with here is less obvious, but the consequences will actually be far more widespread. Moreover, it is already imminent and is absolutely certain to occur. There is plenty of evidence that it has already begun! Previous actions of removing so much groundwater absolutely ensure that this disaster will happen, or has already happened and we just don't know it yet, with the only question being a matter of when.

Consider again that boundary area between the ground that is soaked by fresh water and that soaked by seawater. Remember also that water is destined to seek its own level. Under the present circumstances, with some areas of the freshwater water table well below sea level, there is certainly already a slow but consistent seepage of seawater INWARD under the perimeter areas of Southern Florida. This was suspected by around 1990 and has been proven experimentally since at least 1995. Many studies have documented the continual incursions of the salty seawater into the Biscayne Aquifer and elsewhere. The actual interaction between freshwater and the higher density seawater is a little more complicated than this, because local hydrostatic pressures are modified by these density differences, but the basic fact that seawater is continuously seeping farther and farther under the perimeters of Florida cannot be denied.

The boundary between freshwater and seawater is therefore slowly moving inland. When that boundary gets to the location of the well of a city, that city's water supply becomes immediately and permanently contaminated and unusable. The water from that well will rather quickly become extremely saline. As noted above, Florida's laws limit safe drinking water to no more than 250 ppm (parts per million) of the water being salt (technically, separately sodium and chloride ions). The water in the Atlantic is around 33,000 ppm, more than a hundred times that level. Once even a tiny amount of that extremely saline seawater seeps in to the location of a municipal well, that's it! It will only get more and more and more saline from then on, and never be usable again, certaily for hundreds or thousands of years.

There will not even be any hope of the situation quickly becoming better. It will certainly take decades and possibly centuries before Nature could reverse the situation. Assuming all irrigation pumping ceased (probably eventually by State statute), it will certainly take a number of years for rains to replenish the ground water that had been depleted for decades. Once the freshwater water table was again several feet above sea level, many years more will pass while the freshwater again pushes the seawater back to the ground under the ocean and gulf. Even then, possibly hundreds or thousands of years from now, wells might still be partially contaminated, because the salt and other contaminants will already be in the soil. It could be hundreds or thousands of MORE years before the salt and contaminants will be finally leached from the soil around the wells. This potentially means that, once a well becomes contaminated with seawater, it might be many thousands of years before that well would again provide water that was safe to drink!

Unfortunately, southern Florida's population has tended to primarily live in areas on the very perimeter of the state. This has disastrous consequences. Nearly all of the municipal wells are within a few miles of the ocean or gulf. Once ONE city finds its water supply contaminated by the salt and other chemicals of seawater, virtually every other city in South Florida is likely to find itself in the same situation within days or weeks. It will not be possible to deal with and try to find solutions for the disaster of a single city. ALL cities and towns in south Florida will find themselves without ANY source of fresh water almost concurrently!


Within a day or two of this situation being covered by the media, everyone will start to grasp the scope of this disaster. Florida has over 13 million people (1990 census). Seventy percent of these people live in the Coastal Lowlands along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. That means more than 9 million people will rather suddenly and completely find themselves with ANY supply of fresh water. The towns will all certainly close their wells because of the contamination, in accordance with the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act.

A main reason for this article is to try to minimize the panic that is certain to occur at that time. If the public gets the impression that no one has thought about the consequences of such a catastrophe, the panic is certain to be widespread. If, instead, the public gets the impression that some sort of contingency plan exists, hopefully rationality will remain common. It would be nice to think that this essay is just speculative thinking about some "remote, potential" disaster. But the reality is that the damage has already been done and that nothing that could be done now can avoid it. Unfortunately, even if all the growers immediately stopped irrigating their fields (and they won't!), it would be a number of years, maybe decades, before the situation underground would stabilize enough to slow the incursion of saltwater toward all of the critical municipal wells.

Current total usage of fresh water is amazingly wasteful! For every American man, woman and child, we use a total of 2,000 gallons per day! Isn't that amazing? That includes ALL uses of fresh water. In city areas, residential use is about 120 gallons per person per day. Rural people tend to be more careful with their usage and average about 79 gallons per person per day. The vast majority of all ground water usage is by farmers, primarily citrus in Florida, that 2.18 billion gallons per day. That would obviously have to be completely stopped by the State government. That will be very hard for them to do, as citrus is a critically important part of Florida's economy.

A great deal of freshwater consumption is by business, industry and government, but all those many uses are considered parts that contribute to the "quality of life" of Floridians.

Under emergency circumstances, let's say that it would be possible for a family to get by on one-fourth of that rural figure, about 20 gallons per person per day. There will be around nine million people without ANY water that will each need 20 gallons per day. This is 180 million gallons of water necessary to be made available somehow, just so the population could survive! This doesn't even involve the large amounts of water needed by industry, commercial, office and government facilities. Considering the hot climate of South Florida, the 20 gallons per person per day might even be too low a figure for general survival. So, we will look at that figure of 180 million gallons per day as being an absolute lowest limit, with practical needs probably far in excess of that.

Where could 180 million gallons of fresh water be obtained? A long-term solution could certainly be developed. Certainly, after a number of years, thousands of desalinization plants could be created, and rainwater collected. After twenty years, it may be practical to supply 180 million gallons of fresh water per day by such methods locally, without using any wells. But that would mean that all those millions of residents would have spent that twenty years essentially without any significant water supplies! (Most would certainly move away). Keep in mind that the contaminated wells are likely to remain contaminated for hundreds of years!

For an immediate solution, the problem is immense because of that astounding quantity of water that must be supplied every single day. Certainly, rapid and massive construction of pipelines from areas more inland would quickly be initiated. Within a few months, such operations should be able to transfer 180 million gallons of fresh water from inland wells that have not yet been contaminated by the seawater. That solution may have limited success, however, because the seawater will continue to seep inward for many years, eventually probably contaminating those wells, too. This would be even more likely to occur because that such heavy use of those inland wells would lower the water table even farther below sealevel, not allow natural replenishment of the water table by rainfall.

Even this would certainly take several months to arrange. Those days before the interim wells and pipelines are complete represent a crisis situation. For the first few months, then, there is an urgent and critical need for 180 million gallons of fresh water, and no obvious supply for it. The only apparent immediate solution seems to be to truck in as much as possible from fresh water supplies in Georgia and Alabama and Northern Florida. A highway tanker truck has a capacity of about 5,000 gallons. Assuming they can all be adequately cleaned from whatever cargo they used to haul, this would involve 36,000 round trips every day for such trucks just carrying water, just for the mere survival of the residents of Southern Florida. That is about a full truckload of water every TWO SECONDS, day and night. Those trips would likely take at least 8 hours round trip, so if about 15,000 tanker trucks were used 24 hours a day, every day, such an effort might be able to avert an even worse health-related situation. The resultant convoy of tanker trucks would effectively be permanently and continuously bumper to bumper running up and down I-95! Unfortunately, there are nowhere near that many available tanker trucks in Southern Florida, particularly ones that could be cleaned well enough to carry drinking water.

Ocean-going ships might be able to help, again, if they could have their cargo areas cleaned enough to carry potable water. The very largest ships afloat might be able to transport 20 million gallons of water per journey, the cycle time per journey probably makes that possibility unrealistic.

Can you imagine what the cost of fresh water will be in such a situation in southern Florida? Wow!

Attempting to collect rainwater might be possible. Since about two-thirds of rain that falls quickly evaporates back into the atmosphere, it might be possible to quickly develop some new technology to collect rain from large areas before it has a chance to evaporate. This probably will not entirely solve the crisis, but it may alleviate it to some extent. Most of the state of Florida has substantial annual rainfall.

On an individual basis, people who have substantial property available might arrange such extended rain collection operations on their property. Unfortunately, there are many dangers related to doing this. There is little doubt that some desperate people are going to try to collect the rainwater that falls on their house roof and collects in their gutters. Such water would be OK for flushing a toilet but would be dangerous to use for any potable reasons. Before that rain occurred, the roof accumulated an assortment of pollution from many sources. When the rains came, they wash all those contaminants off the roof and into the gutters. VERY unsafe to drink or use for food processing!

Even if people set up some specific rain collection structure, this same problem can be significant. Unless the collection surfaces were protected from pollution until just before the rain fell, these contaminants would be present in the collected water. Worse than that, even if absolutely perfect collection methods were created, several types of pollution would still exist in the collected water. The raindrops themselves, as they fall toward earth, collect pollution from the atmosphere. One of the most known types is the famous "acid raid" but raindrops bring a wide assortment of pollution types to the ground.

Actually, Nature has always provided a method for dealing with this! After that contaminated rain has fallen on the ground, as some of it seeps into the ground, and eventually the aquifers, there is a filtration effect where the contaminants are removed from the water! Of course, in the situation being discussed here, the aquifers will be unusable for this purpose because they will have become contaminated with salinity and other minerals from encroaching seawater!

Desperate people will also doubtlessly collect pondwater and draw water from lakes and streams, assuming those sources to be safe and pure. It may occasionally be safe to do this, but in many cases, such choices will lead to massive health dangers. Standing water tends to accumulate bacteria and other organic contaminants that cause many dangerous and sometimes fatal diseases. Even lakes and streams are likely to contain chemical runoffs from pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and industrial chemicals of a wide variety. It is EXTREMELY dangerous to collect drinking water from any such source of unknown purity.

What Can Be Done Now?

The disaster probably cannot be avoided. It is already guaranteed of happening. Seawater has been seeping toward the wells that supply all the freshwater of the cities of South Florida for many years. It is an absolute certainty that it WILL get to those wells, and that they will then immediately be unusable for at least decades and probably centuries. Nothing can now be done to avoid it.

What COULD be done is to drastically reduce present and future groundwater depletion, particularly by irrigation for orchards and by many industries. Will these companies voluntarily do this? Knowing that it will reduce or eliminate their vast profitability? Unfortunately, no. This being America, they will continue on a shortsighted pursuit of immediate profits. In the same way that virtually no companies have made significant changes because of scientists warnings about global warming for the past 30 years, because they chose to believe there was no absolute PROOF of the allegations, they will certainly not act to seriously damage their own profitability in this matter. Only once the first city well is contaminated and closed, quickly followed by ALL of the hundreds of other cities' and towns' wells, and after subsequent new State laws banning irrigation, will they act.

In a similar way, Florida legislators cannot be expected to easily tell the most profitable businesses in the state, the citrus growers, to stop pumping out irrigation water. Those great profits contribute large amounts to the State's tax income.

There may only be one current exception to this situation. If, NOW, a number of Florida residents initiate a CLASS ACTION lawsuit against each of those large users of fresh groundwater, it may be possible to get their attention. This is probably the ONLY course of action that can have any significant value in limiting the scope of the coming disaster. If they would all NOW severely cut back on their consumption, such that rainwater infiltration began to exceed consumption, the level of the water table would cease to drop further, and would hopefully again begin to rise. If this can be accomplished soon (with results within a few years) then at least there would be some limit to the incursion of the seawater. It is absolutely certain to contaminate all existing city wells, but this course of action would hopefully preserve the potability of some inland water wells and supplies. In that case, a city might be able to drill a well 50 miles inland and pipe that safe water to their city.

Here are the bases for such a Class-Action suit. As a direct result of their depleting the ground water supply, the water table is becoming lowered, which will certainly (effectively permanently) allow the various chemicals in seawater to contaminate virtually all fresh water wells in Southern Florida. Nine million people would thereby be immediately and drastically affected, including their lives and their livelihoods. There is a certainty that serious health considerations would result, including a number of deaths directly attributable to the lack of potable water. In addition, nearly all property values will quickly drop to near zero, since the effects of the contamination will certainly last decades and possibly centuries. Few future people would want to live in an area where water was not generally available, particularly since lawns and greenery would likely die from lack of sprinkling. Virtually all tourist business would quickly vanish, as well. How many tourists would want to vacation in a rather desolate-appearing ghost-town environment? Many businesses (such as manufacturing) that depend of significant supplies of fresh water may be forced out of business or to move to some other state or country, unless some specific solution could be found for that company's unique needs. The population of southern Florida would certainly nearly all see cause to consider leaving the State, abandoning their now nearly worthless property. The whole southern half of the State seems quite likely to eventually become a giant version of the ghost towns of the Old West. After the citrus growers are banned from irrigation, those companies are certain to move their operations to other countries, where they seem to have even already bought a lot of land, as in Central America, with many consequences to Florida, including a tremendous loss of revenue for State government, thereby causing reductions of services to the population.

For these reasons, and many others, the companies now depleting Southern Florida's ground water supply will certainly be sued after the fact. But, then, it will be far too late, and they will each then probably just declare bankruptcy as a result. They will each certainly have planned ahead enough to move their (profitable) operations to other countries. NOW, they are each very profitable (and subject to American justice) and know that they are in a position to actually lose something, if a Class Action suit is brought against each of them now.

A Class Action suit brought against the citrus companies now, attaching liens on their world-wide corporate assets against the damage that is certain to be caused in the future by their actions, should get their attention. They must be brought to realize that their present huge profits cannot be at the future expense of all civilization in southern Florida and that they should be accountable for that liability. Hopefully, as a result of such a Suit, those companies would have to institute more intelligent long-term planning regarding their water usage.

This is extremely urgent!

There is one possible procedure of keeping these disasters from happening, or of lessening the severity of the consequences. Orange County, California has been injecting FRESH (recycled) water in a series of wells near the ocean, to replenish the fresh water removed by various uses. This seems to have kept the water table high enough such that the ocean's salt water has not been seeping inward. The problem is that Florida seems likely to wait so long before considering such a process that all the potable wells would become contaminated and unusable before any good effects could be seen. But at least, it seems to be a credible possible action to take.

In November 2002, I have made a recommendation to the city of Venice, Italy, which may also be of some value in upcoming events in Florida, for a somewhat different reason!

In Italy, the city of Venice has been slowly sinking downward for at least the past several centuries. It has gotten to a crisis stage for them, as the Mediterranean Sea regularly floods the city now. Many historically important buildings and artwork are in constant danger of unusually high tides and large waves caused by severe weather.

In the middle 20th Century, many wells were drilled in the area, to obtain fresh water for drinking and all the other purposes. The city leaders were soon horrified to discover that their city was sinking even faster. They soon realized that it was due to the many wells drawing a lot of water out of deep soil, which was allowing the layers above to collapse due to gravity, a process called subsidence.

They obviously immediately ordered those wells closed, and the rate of subsidence soon slowed to its usual rate.

My recommendation to them was to again use those many wells! But NOT to draw water OUT, but to pump large amounts of fresh water INTO the wells. If they would be able to pump more water into those deep soil layers than was able to seep outward, they will build up water pressure, which will certainly raise their city back up! I have done some preliminary calculations to suggest that they may be able to raise their entire city by around three feet over a period of around five years. Since there is no downside (no environmental consequences, very low cost, and existing wells), it seems prudent for them to immediately start doing that. The alternative they are currently considering is to concede that their city will continue to sink and to spend between two and three BILLION dollars building an untested idea of having movable steel walls in the nearby ocean, so they could open and close them! It turns out that that plan, separate from still having their city sinking, has a number of potential environmental problems.

In any case, it has occurred to me that the same general idea might be of some use in Florida once the Municipal wells have become contaminated by infiltrating seawater as described above. If NOTHING is done, and natural rainfall is relied on to gradually fill the aquifers again, which would gradually seep outward toward the ocean (as it had done for hundreds of thousands of years!), it seems certain that many hundreds or even thousands of years will be needed before the sands and rocks of the aquifers are again cleaned of the salt from the ocean. During all those hundreds of years, the southern half of the State of Florida will have no usable wells at all, essentially no fresh water, and so that huge area would have to remain uninhabitable (as described above).

However, there might be a glimmer of hope! IF, IMMEDIATELY on knowing that the Municipal wells have all become contaminated, ALL wells would be ordered stopped (which is all certain to happen anyway), and then, large pumps then begin to constantly pump freshwater DOWN all those wells, a much faster recovery might be possible. It is unclear where that much (fresh) water could come from, but if it could be obtained, the aquifers might soon (a few years) be filled again to a level above sealevel. That would stop the advance of the inwardly seeping saltwater in perhaps just a few years. If such massive pumping was continued, the aquifers would become pressurized (much like the Venice suggestion). In the case of Florida, this pressurization should have the effect of forcing freshwater outward (seaward) through the same paths that the seawater is presently seeping inward. Over a period of following years of continuous pumping, that outwardly moving freshwater figures to gradually purge the aquifer sands and rocks of the salt, by dissolving it and carrying it out under the ocean, due to the pressure developed by the many pumps.

If and when this might be done, there actually would be a side-effect of much of the area of southern Florida should rise up a foot or two in altitude, very much like what is desirable in Venice! In the case of Florida, that result would just happen to occur, and probably would not have any noticeable consequences, except perhaps that beaches get wider!

This is not a "great" solution! But rather than allowing half of the State of Florida to become uninhabitable for hundreds or thousands of years, it might keep that period to just a decade or two.

Here are the links to the four approaches to capturing humidity from the atmospheric air, to provide absolutely pure distilled water:

Pure Water Supply for Third World Villages
Pure Desalinated Seawater for Third World Villages
Pure Distilled Water for Emergencies when Wells are Unusable
Pure Desalinated Seawater Distilled Water for Off-Grid Residents

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago