Orlando Water Restrictions Driven by COVID Cases

Lawn sprinkler on grass

Image: ubcmicromet, CC BY 2.0

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Orlando’s mayor is asking residents to cut back their personal water use so the liquid oxygen used to treat the water can be diverted to treat the area’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Orlando and nearby Winter Park mayors have asked residents to refrain from watering lawns, washing cars, or pressure washing. Watering lawns and landscaping accounts for about 40% of Central Florida’s potable water use, so utility representatives believe that these reductions, while unprecedented, should alleviate the strain on the liquid oxygen supply. If this request from the city government to reduce water use doesn’t do the trick, a boil-water alert could come within a week

Why This Matters: Across the country, hospitals are dealing with a liquid oxygen shortage as COVID-19 hospitalizations spike again. Florida’s hospitalizations are up 29% over the past two weeks. The way that the pandemic is influencing water supplies in Florida highlights the overlapping impacts of disasters. “The ripple effects of this pandemic are real and impacting so many unexpected elements of our lives,” Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight said in a press release. It’s also a reminder that despite being surrounded by oceans and full of rivers and springs, Florida faces serious water supply issues. 

Lawns Use Half of Florida’s Water: In this case, the request for limiting water use for lawns is because of the pandemic. But the amount of potable water that goes toward lawn care could be reduced even without a public health emergency. Central Florida isn’t the only part of the state with a huge proportion of its water supply going to maintaining grass—half of all of Florida’s public water supply is used to water private lawns. That’s about 900 million gallons a day. 

Most Floridians rely on the state’s aquifer for water, but “this underground freshwater reserve can no longer sustain the growing water demands of the population, while also feeding Florida’s rivers, springs, and lakes,” the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences wrote. With the state’s intensive agriculture and growing population—an estimated 1,000 new residents move to Florida every day—the aquifer is increasingly taxed. It shows in the state’s springs, where the water levels have dropped precipitously, reducing the pressure that keeps water flowing. A reduced flow, in turn, leads to stagnant waters and algae formation, and could dry out spring-fed rivers. 

Lawn watering isn’t the sole threat to the state’s water supply, but it’s a piece of the puzzle. The state’s five water management districts can issue restrictions as needed; the South Florida district has a year-round, mandatory lawn watering restriction in place.

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