In response to this year’s destructive freeze, the District is taking proactive measures to prepare for similar events in the future.
From January 3–13, 2010, for the first time in recorded history, temperatures in eastern Hillsborough County dropped below 34 degrees for 11 consecutive days. As a result, area farmers pumped nearly one billion gallons of groundwater per night to protect their crops. This combined pumping dropped the aquifer level 60 feet, causing more than 750 temporarily dry wells for neighboring homeowners. Approximately 140 sinkholes were also reported during this time period.
Although pumping groundwater for freeze protection is a best management practice for strawberry, citrus and other industries and was authorized by their water use permits, farmers were still responsible for fixing hundreds of dry wells.
“To address concerns related to this event, the District held two public workshops and a series of technical work sessions to receive feedback from key stakeholders,” said Richard Owen, District deputy executive director of Resource Regulation.
The first public workshop allowed Dover and Plant City residents to share their concerns and ideas with staff. Attendees discussed personal impacts of the freeze, including the effects of dry wells and the damage caused by sinkholes. After this meeting, staff conducted four technical work sessions with members of the agriculture community, local governments, technical experts and citizens and developed proactive measures to address future freeze events.
“The information gathered at these meetings helped District staff develop a series of recommendations to prevent or reduce similar impacts from happening in future freeze events,” said Owen. “Staff worked successfully under aggressive deadlines in order to have these recommendations in place by the beginning of winter.”
Recommendations in the District’s management plan include:
Expanding Special Well Construction Standards for the Dover Area
The District’s Governing Board approved the expansion of the Dover Special Well Construction Area to reduce the likelihood that homeowners will experience well failures during future prolonged freeze events. Well construction standards in this area require wells to be dug deeper than typical residential wells. All new wells constructed within the area will now be required to meet additional casing depth standards.
Enhancing Communication for Freeze Events
District communication will include reminder letters to permit holders at the beginning of the cold season. Alerts to all local media and an automated telephone call to residents advising them to turn off their well pumps will also occur when aquifer levels are expected to drop below a level that will impact wells. In addition, the District’s web site will continue to contain the most up-to-date information during freeze events, and permit holders will receive timely communication from the District when mitigation is required.
Creating a Water Use Caution Area in the Dover/Plant City Area
The District will create a water use caution area (WUCA) and set a minimum aquifer level in the Dover/Plant City area. A WUCA is designated where water resources are or will become critical in the next 20 years. The District will also develop regulatory strategies in the new WUCA that will limit additional groundwater pumpage while protecting the investments of existing legal users in the area.
Creating a New Process for Allocating Dry Well Complaints
The District designed a new process for determining which permit holders are responsible for dry well complaints during freeze events. This process will result in a more equitable approach for assigning permit holders relative responsibility based on the volume of groundwater they are permitted to use for crop protection.
Expanding the FARMS Program and Increasing Alternative Freeze Protection Incentives
The District will increase its share of costs for projects that reduce groundwater pumping for cold protection in the Dover/Plant City area. The increase will be part of the District’s FARMS Program. FARMS is a cost-share program to reduce groundwater use through water conservation best management practices in agricultural operations.
Expanding the Data Collection Network for Freeze Events
The District will expand its data collection network for freeze events by drilling additional monitoring wells. The District will also expand its Automated Meter Reading Program by providing funding for equipment and installation to monitor all permitted wells with cold protection quantities in the Dover/Plant City area. This will provide accurate real-time meter readings and freeze temperatures.
“This management plan will help the District and permittees respond quickly and effectively to future freeze events,” said Owen. “The changes will go a long way toward protecting our water resources for future generations while also protecting the important agricultural economy of this area.”
Visit WaterMatters.org/freeze-management for more information.
Farm Bureau Presents ‘Friend Award’ to District
The Hillsborough County Farm Bureau’s board of directors recognized the District’s handling of the January 2010 freeze event by presenting the 2010 Friend Award to Executive Director Dave Moore. Judi Whitson, the bureau’s executive director, said the bureau felt that Moore had done more to assist farmers than anyone else this year.
“He really stood up and helped the agricultural community,” said Whitson. “He listened to us, and he understood the issues.”
Whitson said that Moore “really put his neck on the line” for farmers, who were taking a lot of criticism after the freeze event.
“Not only did he stand up for agriculture, but he kept us informed as well,” said Whitson. “He took the time to explain issues and the changes that would affect farmers.”
Moore said that the award was, “great, but totally unexpected.”
“I accepted the award but only as a representative of a large and highly effective team,” said Moore. “The District did a great job this past year with the cold protection event.”
The Hillsborough County Farm Bureau is a grass-roots support organization for farm and ranch families with more than 4,000 member families in Hillsborough County.