With little rain, wetlands brownish but plenty of water on tap


The tall strands take on an orange hue in the afternoon light. The hiking trails at Grassy Waters Preserve have turned more sandy than solid in spots and bicyclists strain as tires dig into the soft ground.

A combination of low moisture levels in soil and plants and high temperatures and winds led Palm Beach County on Thursday to institute a ban on open burning until further notice. The countywide ban prohibits all outdoor burning not specifically permitted by the Florida Forest Services, Capt. Albert Borroto of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue said.

Barbecues are allowed but bonfires, campfires and burning yard debris is not, including for residential and commercial land-clearing, Barroto said.

“Palm Beach County is rapidly approaching a critical state where increased wildfire intensity is likely,” he added.

But despite an unusually dry season, West Palm Beach officials say the 23-square-mile Grassy Waters wetland is just half a foot below its maximum level and that, thanks partly to measures taken after droughts past, the city water supply is secure.

The preserve, an Everglades remnant on the western reaches of the city, is engineered like a bathtub, with the city and South Florida Water Management District controlling inflows and outflows to mitigate weather extremes and protect not just drinking water for West Palm, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach, but habitats for nesting snail kites, alligators and other wildlife that populate Grassy Waters.

Nonetheless, Assistant City Administrator Scott Kelly said Wednesday, West Palm plans to restart a program to remind residents and businesses about water restrictions in effect since the drought of 2011.

“We’re going to start ramping up to provide education and potential enforcement,” he said.

As of April 19, rainfall was 7.83 inches below normal for the year in West Palm Beach, according to Meteorologist Chuck Caracozza of the National Weather Service.

At Grassy Waters, the maximum water level is considered 19.2 feet above sea level. Any higher and it would gnaw at Northlake Boulevard’s roadbed. It’s at 18.6 feet, “so we’re in good shape right now,” Kelly said.

West Palm to press on against State Road 7 near Grassy Waters.

After the drought of 2011, the driest season in 80 years, West Palm Beach took several steps to shore up its drinking water supply. It arranged for alternate sources of water, in the event Lake Okeechobee levels drop or are cut off, such as the C-17 canal as well as an eastern and western wellfield, and it retooled its reservoirs to be able to draw from deeper down.

The city also enacted permanent water restrictions, limiting grass-watering to three days a week. If water levels keep dropping that could be further restricted to two days a week, Kelly said.

As far as enforcing those restrictions, West Palm doesn’t plan to go out and immediately write citations, he said. The city will start with education and warnings.

For now, no need for concern about the city’s water supply, Kelly said. “We feel comfortable that we’re doing everything we’re supposed to.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

BREAKING: Retired PBSO deputy shot, killed son-in-law in The Acreage
BREAKING: Retired PBSO deputy shot, killed son-in-law in The Acreage

A retired Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed his son-in-law Sunday night in The Acreage, according to authorities. Carlton Nebergall Jr., 61, was arrested early Monday on a first-degree murder charge in the death of his 36-year-old son-in-law, Jacob Lodge, court records show. He is expected to make his first appearance before...
Trump in Palm Beach: President to head back to White House late afternoon
Trump in Palm Beach: President to head back to White House late afternoon

UPDATE 8:47 a.m.: Still no word on how Trump will be spending the holiday, but he did take to Twitter this morning to say, “Have a great, but very reflective, President’s Day!” Original Story: President Donald Trump will spend part of Presidents Day in Palm Beach County before flying back to the White House this evening. He has...
BAFTA Film Awards 2018: See the complete winners list
BAFTA Film Awards 2018: See the complete winners list

Check out which films, stars and directors won big Sunday at the 2018 British Academy Film Awards in London.  Best film: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" Outstanding British film: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" Outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer: "I Am Not a Witch,"...
WATCH: Fergie's national anthem performance at the NBA All-Star Game baffles viewers
WATCH: Fergie's national anthem performance at the NBA All-Star Game baffles viewers

Grammy award-winning recording artist Fergie was tasked with the pre-game national anthem for the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night. On paper, that sounds like a great choice, but many viewers thought it could have gone better. Critics pointed out that Fergie’s voice was oddly erratic during the anthem. One sequence even led Warriors forward...
BREAKING: Man dies after shooting in The Acreage
BREAKING: Man dies after shooting in The Acreage

A man has died in a shooting in western Palm Beach County in the vicinity of The Acreage tonight, authorities said. The suspected shooter was caught at the scene, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said. Deputies responded around 8:30 p.m. to a call about the shooting in the 11000 block of Mellow Court. They found the male victim...
More Stories