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More than 100 wildfires have scorched our 'abnormally dry' state, and it could get worse



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  • Photo by Joey Roulette

The majority of the state's water comes from the underground Floridan aquifer. Graf says if the drought continues to intensify, the district can look at users with consumptive water permits and cut the allocation of what they're receiving. This can include golf courses, agricultural and nursery farms, mining activities and commercial users who pull water from the aquifer or other bodies of water.

While the drought is serious, Graf says, it probably won't severely affect the aquifer if people conserve water. Currently, the areas of Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and Lake counties pump about 800 million gallons from the aquifer a day, a figure that remained relatively flat for almost two decades as more residents moved to Central Florida. Back in 2014, the Central Florida Water Initiative said Orlando was using as much water as it safely could from the aquifer, but the groundwater withdrawals were reaching the limits of sustainability.

"The Floridan aquifer is sustainable right now to pump about 850 millions of gallons a day, not more," Graf says. "With any real expansion of water use, we're going to have to rely on alternative service."

Residents should also be careful about accidentally starting fires, says Sean Gallagher, manager of the Orlando district for the Florida Forest Service. Don't throw cigarettes on the ground or dump the contents of your barbecue grill in the backyard. While that might usually produce no reaction, in this drought, it could start a fire. If you get pulled over or have to change a tire on a grassy roadside, turn off your car – the heat could provoke flames if it comes into contact with dry vegetation, Gallagher says. Certain areas, like homes surrounded by trees, can be more at risk because it's harder for firefighters to get through wooded areas when there's a fire.

"The drought is not going to necessarily cause more fires, but it does make it difficult to control," Gallagher says. "You still need something or someone to start a fire. It's not going to start by itself."

Florida's droughts appear to be cyclical, but climate experts and environmental advocates say warming temperatures may exacerbate the consequences.

Droughts are part of the state's normal climate pattern and have happened every five to six years for decades, says Leonard Berry, a Florida Atlantic University professor who doubles as the director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies. But due to climate change, Florida is having more intense rainstorms and longer periods without rain in warmer winters.

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