29 April, 2007
No surprise that the severe drought in my home state of Florida is having a greater effect on wildlife than on those pesky humans who complain mightily about not being able to wash their cars when they please or water their personal exotic landscapes known as lawns. As is the case when water levels are low the alligator population is searching for some relief and that is often found closer to humans than many of the two-legged creatures would prefer.
Many people in S. Florida have complained about gators in their pools, backyards, etc. for years. Homo sapiens originated about 200,000 years ago. Alligator mississippiensis and its relatives developed about 80 million years ago. So, who is in whose backyard really?
Gators may, in fact, make better neighbors than other humans. A friend of mine who tried to welcome a new neighbor to his S. Florida neighborhood with a simple "hello" was met with the response, "I didn't move to f***ing Florida to talk to f***ing neighbors."
Where I am currently staying people haven't tuned into their own drought issues; they are surprised a visitor like me can rattle off their watering restrictions. It seems to me people continue to think about water the way we used to (o.k., often still do) think about trees: plenty of them, always been there and always will be.
Florida is a contradiction; a landscape defined by water, yet a green desert lacking significant surface water resources. And with studies showing about 1,000 people moving to Florida every day the situation will only continue to get worse. Too many people not enough effective leadership and, in some critical areas, a real lack of community. Period. Unfortunately it's been this way for a very long time. People have been shouting about the need for change down here since before I was born. And yet here we are in another drought, which is beginning to sound as quaint a term as "police action". The term "water emergency" is actually being uttered this time.
In my experience, the transient nature of the population is a special kind of problem. A lot of transplants live there, but "home" is strangely still where they came from; that's where their allegiances lie whether your talking taxes for education or water. These are often the people that think a hurricane warning is a reason to party, not evacuate. They don't know about this place they moved to and they don't care. In writing about the 2001 drought for a small newspaper in S. Florida I fielded far too many calls from newcomers who thought S. Florida's watersheds functioned the same as the ones in Pennsylvania, New York, or Ohio. They questioned why they couldn't wash their car when there was plenty of water in the "lake" behind their condo, which is actually an aquifer recharge pond. My favorite was the guy who was irate because, "there's plenty of water in the water hazards on the golf courses." I had to bite my tongue and try to keep from suggesting he go ahead and chug down a big glass of it; water hazards collect all the crap that gets added to the course to make it so "pretty".
Read this article from today's Miami Herald that gives some pretty graphic explanations of how bad it is - "face the prospect of buying bottled water if seawater works its way into coastal well fields, making tap water too salty to drink." Worse is what is already happening out in the Everglades - "Wading birds already have abandoned the drying marsh ''super colony,'' the most productive breeding ground in the Glades in recent years." You don't have to be a scientist to know it could get even worse there with devastating wildfires eating away the peat and a shortage of fresh water flowing into already-troubled Florida Bay increasing algae blooms. The accompanying map shows how the natural system is supposed to work and where it's not.
There is a virtual Mary Poppins satchel of information about water on the web including the EPA's Surf Your Watershed. For those of you living in, moving to, or contemplating a move to Florida check out SFWMD, figure out which water management district you live in, do your homework and make some changes. And to those of you that refuse to believe, listen, or change. Do the rest of us a favor and, please, leave. Last one out, turn off the tap.