Drought brings restrictions for Florida farmers, worries about marshes

At least four groundwater monitoring wells in South Miami-Dade County have hit the highest salt concentrations ever. The marshy water conservation areas at the western fringes of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties have gone bone dry. Lake Okeechobee has dropped so low that water managers can't tap it to replenish coastal drinking water supplies.

Water managers, grappling with deepening water shortages after the driest six months on record, on Thursday approved emergency restrictions on farmers who draw from the lake, cutting their rations by nearly half.

Peter Kwiatkowski, a water resources director for the district, said the buffer of fresh water protecting well fields has dwindled to a quarter of what it should be, significantly raising risks to Everglades marshes and wells supplying tens of thousands of residents. If saltwater pushing in from Biscayne Bay taints those wells, it can take years to reverse the impact or could require utilities to perform expensive desalination treatments.

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