Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
January was uncommonly good for tourism but the record-setting lack of rain has water managers on edge.
Water levels remain adequate, despite what was the driest January since record-keeping began in 1932.
A mere 0.16 inches of rain fell across the 16-county region monitored by the South Florida Water Management District. Average January rainfall is 1.93 inches.
“While January did set a record, it is still early in the dry season,” said Susan Sylvester, the chief of the District’s Water Control Operations Bureau. “We are closely monitoring water levels, because the entire region is likely to experience several more months of dry weather.”
Water levels in Lake Okeechobee, the barometer of water shortage conditions, are well above last year. Wednesday’s lake level stood at 13.26 feet, compared to 12.48 feet a year ago. The 730-square-mile lake, which serves as a backup water supply for South Florida, received a major boost from October rains and remains above its water shortage management zone.
The very dry conditions are typical of a weather pattern known as La Nina. Conditions in the Pacific Ocean known as La Nina have tended to cause a high pressure system to hover over Florida and deflect moisture-bearing fronts.
Below-average rainfall is forecast for the rest of the dry season. As a result, a water shortage warning remains in effect throughout the region and water restrictions remain in place. Under the district’s year-round Landscape Irrigation Rule, watering is allowed twice a week in most areas. Some cities, such as West Palm Beach and Lake Worth utilities, allow watering only once a week.
In West Palm Beach, the city hardest hit by last year’s drought, Palm Beach International Airport recorded 0.38 inches of rain and went 26 consecutive days — from Dec. 28 to Jan. 22 — without any measurable precipitation. Still, the city’s water supply is looking good and projects are in place to ensure the city never comes so close to running out of water, said David Hanks, the city’s utilities director.
The city recently received permits to install a new intake system at its water plant that will give the city access to water it previously could not access in Clear Lake, the city’s reservoir. Clear Lake is plagued with a pocked bottom that is so shallow in some areas that water becomes trapped in deeper holes and cannot be drawn into the water plant.
Hanks said the new intake system will give the city between 90 to 120 days of worth of water.
“Well, knock on my very hard head, considering we haven’t had any rain for awhile. Right now we’re fine,” Hanks said. “As long as we get a little rain every now and then, we will be fine.”