Drought isn't all bad


Boats rest on the dried banks of a canal near Okeechobee, Fla., as the drought continued statewide in this May 1, 2007 file photo. Heading into 2008, South Florida continues to see unprecedented drought conditions like much of the Southeast.

J. Pat Carter/The Associated Press, file photo
Published: Saturday, January 5, 2008 at 2:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 5, 2008 at 2:19 p.m.

SARASOTA, Fla. - Water supplies may be low as the state suffers from unprecedented drought conditions, but some say it's been good for business.

"It's been great out on the water," said Rick Grassett, a Sarasota fishing guide. "Sea grass is thicker and more abundant. Fish are more plentiful."

Statewide, rainfall is 20 inches below average over the last two years, diminishing the flow of fresh water into coastal estuaries. South Florida will soon be under its most severe restrictions ever, with outside watering cut to once a week in 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys.

Lake Okeechobee, a backup drinking water source for 5 million people and the heart of the Everglades, remains at a record low. Agriculture in the region has already been forced to cut 45 percent of its water use.

The industry, including sugar, peanuts and horticulture, could see up to $1 billion in losses.

But some say the drought is also neutralizing harmful drainage from farms and developments, reducing water pollution and boosting marine life in local bays.

Scallops, for example, have been found in some bays for the first time in years, and are expanding in many areas. Experts say oysters are thriving as well, with the highest survivability rates since Sarasota County began monitoring them in 2003.

In Dona Bay, in Nokomis, less fresh water carrying pollutants means oysters and sea grass this year are thriving.

"We've seen a really dramatic increase in scallops this year," said Jay Leverone, a staff scientist for Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. "We can't confirm the reasons. We can only observe. But we do know that we don't have those stressors like excessive freshwater and nutrients."

Another factor likely helping scallops is the lack of red tide in the region that often kills sea life. Grassett said red tide nearly wiped out spotted sea trout in the region in 2005, but the fish have rebounded this year.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top