August 22, 2022

Master Naturalist Spotlight Series

Recharging the Floridan Aquifer: Threats to the Floridan Aquifer

Jon Heggie with National Geographic states, “Florida’s booming population is writing a water check its aquifers can’t cash…”   Some of the threats to the Floridan aquifer include the following:

Figure 1: FDOT 2020 Population Growth

Population Growth

Florida’s population has grown from about two million in the 1940s to around 21 million today, with a projection of over 26 million within the next 20 years.

At the heart of the problem is over-extraction: there are simply too many people taking too much water from the aquifer. In the early, to mid-1900s developers began to capitalize on Florida’s natural beauty and warm climate, draining wetlands to build homes and fueling development that turned Florida into one of the fastest growing states: an estimated 900 people a day move here, adding another 300,000 people a year.

Construction site drainage in Flagler County, photo by Stephanie Hezel
Figure 2: Construction site drainage in Flagler County, photo by Stephanie Hezel

The population growth also diminishes recharge as lands that recharge the aquifer are drained and covered with concrete.


Groundwater quality is also impaired not only by point contamination sources such as industrial or municipal waste repositories but also by nonpoint contamination events such as the widespread application of fertilizers and a wide range of chemicals for increased agricultural production.

Over Extraction (from other than population growth):

Of the seven billion gallons of freshwater used daily across Florida’s agriculture, industry, power plants, and public water sectors, most are taken from the Floridan aquifer. Half of all the water taken from the public supply ends up watering private lawns.  Indoors, around 24 percent of a household’s water goes to toilets, 20 percent is used for showers and nearly 19 percent for running faucets for everything from brushing teeth to rinsing plates.

Figure 4: Source US Geological Survey (USGS.gov)

Saltwater Intrusion:

Over-extraction and diminishing recharge areas cause saltwater to be drawn toward the freshwater zones of the aquifer and seep into the aquifer at levels that make its water undrinkable.

If water is pumped out at a rate faster than the aquifer is replenished, the pressure of freshwater over saltwater in the land mass is decreased. This decrease may cause the level of saltwater to rise in the aquifer, degrading water quality. This problem can be controlled by careful attention to well location and pumping rates.

The Effects of Climate Change:

Did you know since 1880, the global sea level has risen about eight inches? Scientists expect the global sea level to rise another one to four feet by 2100.

A changing climate impacts the quantity and quality of groundwater through increased risks of drought, changes in precipitation and temperature, decreases in snowmelt, and rising sea levels. As the sea level rises, the amount of saltwater infiltrating the groundwater aquifer will increase, which can make the water too salty for human consumption.

Protect and Preserve viable Recharge Areas:

With all of the threats to the Floridan aquifer, it’s important to protect and preserve those areas of NE Florida where, when it rains, the water will filter through the soil and replenish the aquifer to help ensure adequate and high-quality water resources in the future.