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Despite Heavy Rain, Drought Continues to Affect Florida Springs and Rivers

Continued draining of wetlands, lakes, and the aquifer for public utilities, agriculture, and industry are making conditions worse

The summers have been dry for years. And quiet. No chorus of frogs. No dragonflies. No mosquitoes. No rain. Mowers have been silent. The grass brittle and brown. Leaves crunched underfoot as I walked along our creek near Gainesville, FL. No water—only a bed of sand gleaming under the scorching sun.

drying river Photo by Eleanor K. SommerFlorida’s historical average annual rainfall used to be 59 inches, but the past six years has seen that
rate drop, on average, by 10 inches.

Long-term drought has parched northern Florida’s normally verdant summer landscape for nearly a decade. The past few years have been the driest. Lakes and rivers have been in severe decline from the drought. Florida’s historical average annual rainfall used to be 59 inches, but the past six years has seen that rate drop, on average, by 10 inches. In north Florida, where the lack of rainfall has been more extensive, many springs and wells have dried up.

This summer, the upper Santa Fe was so dry that exposed soil was quickly covered with grass, shrubs, and small trees. Canoe enthusiasts were confined to the lower basin area where springs, although diminished in magnitude, still pumped enough water for a decent day’s paddle.

Visitors to the O’Leno State Park, located along the banks of the Santa Fe River, could hardly discern movement on the stagnant waterway. Many parts were reduced to a trickle and piles of stones protruded from mud flats. The swirling of the famous sink where the Santa Fe River makes its spectacular dive underground was still, green scum floating on the surface.

So when Tropical Storm Debby drifted ashore and parked itself over north Florida at the end of June, residents welcomed the rain. We were not, however, prepared for the damage caused by this slow moving storm that dropped as much as 28 inches of rain in some areas of the state during the four days that it moved across the state.

There was plenty of damage to homes and properties, including a number of sink holes in central Florida. The Santa Fe swelled over its banks, covering picnic tables and cooking grills and taking down parts of the boardwalk that allows visitors to circumvent the river and the famous river sink.

The unofficial flooding at O’Leno was 52.46 feet above sea level, which is probably the highest the upper Santa Fe has seen since 1992, according to Megan Wetherington, a senior professional engineer with the Suwannee River …more

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