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Overcrowding? Nature will fix that! May 13, 2007 5:16 AM

Posted on Sun, May. 13, 2007 http://www.miamiherald.com/424/story/103983.htmlMiami Herald By CARL HIAASEN

In the absence of a sane growth-management policy, nature is becoming the great equalizer in Florida.

A 17-month drought has made a puddle of Lake Okeechobee and has 
parched the Biscayne Aquifer. Parts of the Everglades are drying up, 
while advancing seawater endangers the well fields that serve 
hundreds of thousands of residents in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Water managers warn that, unless consumption is drastically reduced,  the taps could run dry -- or, at the least, start spitting salt -- in several coastal communities. Forget about watering your lawn; you won't be able to water your kids.

The emergency is so dire that even a busy hurricane season may not  make it go away. Florida, one of the wettest states in the country, 
is running dry.

Drought cycles here are nothing new, but this is the first one to 
occur with 18 million people encamped on the peninsula. They might 
cut back on sprinkling their geraniums, but they won't stop taking 
showers or washing their laundry.

Not many politicians are brave enough to cite overpopulation as a 
cause of the current crisis, though it is. There are too many people 
using too much water, but it's easier to blame the weather.

The state's primitive, low-tech economy revolves around cramming as many humans as possible onto every available acre.

Few in Tallahassee have the guts to admit that it's time to change 
course.

This is where nature steps in. Try selling a new home or a condo when briny crud is dripping from the spigots.

Since its infancy, Florida has had a contentious relationship with 
water. The Everglades were diked and dredged to sabotage the natural flow, first for the benefit of agriculture and later for the benefit of land developers.

The Everglades promptly began to die, and only when the financial 
ramifications became manifest did those same special interests rally 
behind the current restoration program.

Unlike California and other fast-growing states, Florida can't hijack 
big rivers to supply its thirsty cities. Much of our water is pumped 
from porous rock underground and, without moderate rain, the levels keep dropping and salt intrusion progresses.

Building moratoriums

Once a contaminated well is shut down, it can take years to bring it 
safely back on line. Said Jesus Rodriguez, spokesman for the South 
Florida Water Management District, ``The scenario is a grim one. We could be talking about bottled water for the municipalities for a 
long time.''

One way to gird for the future -- and protect families who already 
live here -- would be to impose building moratoriums in those 
counties where the water shortage is most acute.

This is way too simple and sensible. Moratoriums can't be enacted 
unless local leaders are willing to stand up to developers, a rare 
occurrence indeed. The state is requiring counties to recycle water 
for nonpotable uses, but that doesn't curb the liquid appetite of 
sprawl.

It's lunacy to continue carving out subdivisions and erecting high-
rises when the wells are drying up, but that's the plan: Keep Florida 
growing, no matter what. Once the rainy season begins, everything's  gonna be fine, right?

Wrong. The state was soaked by hurricanes and tropical waves during 2004 and 2005, yet where's all that water now?

As we all know, newcomers aren't easily spooked away from Florida.  Despite predictions of another terrible storm season, the state's population soared last year by nearly 431,000.

That's the same as adding two more cities, each the size of Orlando.

According to the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and 
Business Research, the state will have 20 million residents within 
three years, and almost 25 million by 2025.

Don't let anybody tell you this is good news, unless you yearn for 
more taxes, higher insurance rates and water bills as hefty as your 
car payment. That's the future, and it's not so far off.

Encroaching saltwater

Rains will come this summer, as they always do, providing temporary cover for politicians who don't want to confront the water crisis. 
Experts say it could take years of heavier-than-normal precipitation 
to restore safe levels in Lake Okeechobee and saturate the aquifers 
sufficiently to stave off encroaching seawater.

Shortages will hit some communities sooner, and harder, than others. 
Eventually, state water managers will be forced to take action on a 
bolder scale than rationing sprinkler use.

Twice as many people are moving here as are moving out. The net 
population continues to expand at the dangerous rate of about 1,000  souls a day, and they'll keep coming until there's a full-blown water 
panic.

By then, we'll all be sucking air.

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