Opportunities and Challenges Associated with Development of Alternative Water Supplies


  • Albert Muniz, P.E., Hazen and Sawyer
  • Miguel Arroyo, P.E., City of Fort Lauderdale
  • George A. Brown, P.E., Hazen and Sawyer

Development of south Florida exploded around the turn of the twentieth century. By the 1920’s, many communities, such as the City of Fort Lauderdale, had water treatment and distribution systems. Most of these systems were basic with simple water supply wells drilled into the water table aquifer. The first production wells were located approximately four miles inland away from any potential users or conflicts. This may have been the first source protection step ever recorded in Florida. The City’s first wellfield, known as the Dixie Wellfield, is located in what was an isolated area of the County and thought to be an ideal site for water supply. Some of the wells constructed in 1926 are still in use today.

By the 21st Century, flood protection and the subtropical climate of southeast Florida had attracted over 6 million people to the area. In the 1950’s, the City had to expand their raw water supply to meet increasing water demands and began development of a second wellfield known as the Prospect Wellfield. Today, the Prospect Wellfield provides approximately 75% of the City’s raw water. Growth is estimated to continue with a doubling of the local population by 2020. Figure 1 shows the location of the City of Fort Lauderdale and its service area.

A key in the growth of south Florida was the flood protection provided via the Central and Southern Flood Control Project. Flood protection was of vital importance to south Florida since this state receives approximately 55 inches of rainfall a year. The Central and Southern Flood Control project designed and constructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (COE), provided flood protection through a series of primary canals. These canals extended from Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean. Figure 2 shows the location of these canals in southeast Florida. Each canal is managed through a system of pumps and control structures and is able to discharge huge volumes of stormwater over a very short period. A typical discharge from one canal is over 500 million gallons per day during storm events. In addition to the primary canal system, there is a secondary canal system to provide regional flood control, and a tertiary canal system for local control. It is important to note that the flood control system is design for flood protection and provides little use in water management.

Since South Florida is extremely flat, flood protection was vital to growth and development of coastal communities. The elevation change between Lake Okeechobee and south Florida is approximately 14 feet. This represents a gradient of only 0.10 foot per mile in topography. Storage is therefore critical for water supply and management in south Florida. Lake Okeechobee is the heart of the entire ecosystem and provides the only viable storage. To compound issues further is the fact that the majority of precipitation falls during the low demand months (May through October), and not during the peak season when tourist abound (November through April). Hence management of lake levels and releases for water supply or environmental purposes are critical.

For a copy of the full paper, please contact the author at amuniz@hazenandsawyer.com

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