Audubon’s New Mapping Tool Can Protect Water in Orlando Region

The greater Orlando area is one of the most rapidly growing regions in Florida and is already experiencing water shortages.

Cities have relied on the Floridan Aquifer for most of their supply, but restrictions have been placed on water withdrawals to prevent depletion. Increasingly, people are looking to surface water, but there is simply not enough. To solve this impending water crisis, the State of Florida founded the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI), encompassing 5,300 square miles around the Orlando region.

Because the region sits at the headwaters of three watersheds and is heavily drained, rainwater tends to flow away, thereby accelerating the exit of regional water. In an effort to sustain and enhance water resources in the Orlando area, Audubon launched a research study sponsored by Disney to identify projects that may assist in surface water retention. This critical research will infor efforts in the CFWI to manage water resources now and into the future.

In partnership with Soil and Water Engineering Technology, Inc., we developed an interactive GIS based mapping tool that will identify suitable locations for passively storing surface water and/or recharging ground water. The tool used four primary consideration to evaluate potential projects: hydrography, topography, land use, and soils. Secondary datasets are also included in the interactive tool, including: property values, number of landowners, proximity to conservation and greenway lands, listed species, wetlands, flood zones, and other parameters of interest.

Importantly, these mapping tool parameters allow us to distinguish between areas that would be viable for aquifer recharge versus those that would be suited for surface water storage. Recharge areas have deep, sandy soils that allow water to freely move downward, while surface storage areas have soils that reduce or prevent downward seepage. Because of these differences, recharge areas should be managed to hold water on-site to promote percolation into the ground water aquifer. Surface storage features essentially are wetlands and lakes and should be managed to support surface water retention.

For the purposes of this project, Audubon scientists selected areas larger than 400 acres as a minimum effective size for a potential water project. In all, 224 promising surface storage project locations were identified. This free tool will be posted on Audubon’s website, making it available to agencies, local governments, landowners, land managers, and regional stakeholders to help evaluate possible projects. 

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