Florida Governor Charlie Crist and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson recently joined with a group of state and federal officials to discuss the current drought conditions and water conservation measures being taken.

Meeting with the governor and senator were Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) Commissioner Charles Bronson, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael W. Sole, Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM) Director Craig Fugate, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Director Carol Wehle and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander Colonel Paul Grosskruger.

“Every drop of water makes a difference, and water conservation needs to be part of everyone’s daily routine,” said Governor Crist.

“Through proactive planning and taking steps now to conserve, we are both protecting and stretching the regional water supply for south Florida.”

Governor Crist urged leaders to continue water restrictions already in place, while taking additional measures as conditions change. To educate Floridians on steps to help conserve water resources, Governor Crist announced a new water conservation Web site that contains water conservation tips and information about the drought conditions.

As a result of the current drought conditions and water conservation measures, Governor Crist also announced a Drought Working Group to be chaired by DEP Secretary Sole. The Working Group, which includes representatives from DEP, DACS, DEM and SFWMD will review the 2007 State of Florida Drought Action Plan and coordinate the state’s efforts to implement the plan.

"The drought we're experiencing is severe as it is, not only significantly increasing the wildfire threat, but imperiling our crops," Commissioner Charles Bronson said.

"Agriculture is Florida's second largest industry, and 40 percent of our cash receipts come from farms in the south Florida Water Management District. With many farms facing the most severe water restrictions, agriculture already is seeing significant economic impact, and a continued drought could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses."

The 2007 State of Florida Drought Action Plan provides background on the current drought being experienced in Florida, discusses the recent history of drought management in the state, describes the current institutional structure for addressing water shortages, and sets out specific steps to respond to the current drought.

It also identifies short-term and medium-term action steps to improve water conservation, manage the current conditions and develop alternative water supplies.

“Times like this remind us of the importance of protecting and conserving our water resources as well as developing alternative supplies,” said DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole.

“Through implementation of this Drought Action Plan, state and federal partners are taking steps to conserve water, implement restrictions where necessary and develop long-term solutions to prepare for future drought conditions.”

State and local emergency managers are urging residents across the region to observe conservation orders to help preserve critical water supplies during this drought event. “Water is a vital resource that all Floridians need to conserve and use wisely,” said DEM Director Craig Fugate.

“Everyone can play a key role in this Drought Action Plan by heeding local water restrictions in their communities.”

“These action steps are vital to success, with maximum efforts to conserve water first on the list,” said Carol Ann Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. “Conservation is an important step that every Floridian can take. While our state agencies depend on each other during this emergency, we all depend on citizen support.”

Statewide, Florida receives an average of 54 inches of rainfall a year, with an average of almost 10 inches during the first three months of the year. For Jan. 1 — March 31, 2007, Florida has received only 5.88 inches of rainfall, resulting in a shortage of water in south Florida. Further, seasonal weather forecasts predict that conditions likely will not improve in the months ahead, prompting state officials to prepare for the possibility that drought conditions will remain or possibly worsen during the next several months.

Lake Okeechobee, the source of water for the Florida Everglades and the primary back-up water supply for most agricultural users and residents of the SFWMD, is currently at 10.08 feet, the lowest elevation ever recorded in the month of April and more than four feet below its historical average for this time of year.

At this low level, water from the lake cannot be used to replenish the regional supply.

To address the water shortage, the SFWMD is encouraging conservation and issued restrictions to limit both residential and agricultural use.

For more information on the Drought Action plan and to see “50 Tips for Water Conservation,” please visit http://floridadep.org/drought.

For additional information on water restrictions currently in place in south Florida, residents are encouraged to call the SFWMD’s toll-free Water Shortage Hotline at 1-800-662-8876 or visit http://www.sfwmd.gov/conserve.