New housing developments will bring fresh water woes

State planners recently tallied up the potential impact of major residential developments on the drawing boards in Florida. Their findings, reported last month in the St. Petersburg Times, were staggering. If developers’ dreams come true, the coming decades could see the construction of 630,965 new homes across the state. Many residents, watching both their home values and their lawns wither, had this reaction: What about the water?

Take a big gulp, because the impact on water usage with all those new rooftops would be a whopper.

How much water are we talking about?

Residential water use averages about 95 gallons per person, per day statewide.

There are an average of 2.45 residents in each household, pushing consumption to 233 gallons of water daily.

Multiply average household usage times 631,000 new homes.

That means nearly 150 million more gallons of water being tapped every day. Or an additional 54 billion gallons of water per year.

Where does it go?

About half of a Florida home’s water goes on the lawn. Or 75 million gallons a day in the new homes planned. About 30 percent of indoor water use goes down the toilet, so scratch off another 22.5 million gallons daily being flushed away in Florida’s new homes.

Where does our water come from?

Today, Florida gets about 87 percent of its drinking water from groundwater (aquifers) and 13 percent from surface water. While projects like Tampa Bay’s desalination plant, which turns seawater into fresh, are helpful, it would be difficult and expensive to use such technology to meet the demand of a projected housing boom.

Pierce Jones, director of the Program for Resource Efficient Communities at the University of Florida, calculated that the total output of Tampa Bay’s desalination plant last year was just enough to water the lawns of 140,000 homes.

That means it would take about five more desalination plants just like Tampa Bay’s, which cost $158 million to build, just to irrigate the landscapes on Florida’s new developments.