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  • [MUSIC- STEPHEN FOSTER, "OLD FOLKS AT HOME"]

  • REPORTER: Some days are just unforgettable.

  • The birth of a child.

  • Your first day at school.

  • The day you fell in the giant sinkhole.

  • Well, at least that last part is the reality for one woman

  • in Plant City.

  • CARLA CHAPMAN: It compresses you.

  • It's hard to-- you can't maneuver out of it.

  • You're wiggling and you're maneuvering more into it.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: So we're here in Central Florida to

  • investigate the problem of massive sinkholes being caused

  • by groundwater pumping.

  • Basically, to get fresh water, they've caused all the porous

  • limestone underneath central Florida to start to cave in

  • and crack, causing homes, neighborhoods, cars to start

  • falling into giant holes.

  • So we're going to get to the bottom of that story and find

  • out if there are any possible solutions.

  • Ah.

  • Holy shit it's cold.

  • Sinkholes are the result of groundwater pumping, the

  • process we use to retrieve 80 billion gallons

  • of water every day.

  • The process is simple.

  • Water falls from the sky and sinks down through the ground

  • to fill aquifers, which are like massive underground

  • vaults of water.

  • By drilling into these aquifers, we can pump

  • freshwater out.

  • It's cheap and, in theory, a renewable source of drinking

  • water for this country.

  • More than half of our water is already produced this way.

  • Problem is we're using too much of it too fast.

  • We're draining aquifers faster than they can be replenished,

  • and it's compromising not only wetlands, lakes, and rivers,

  • but the structural integrity of Florida's limestone

  • foundation.

  • In Florida, where 90 percent of the population relies on

  • groundwater for drinking, it's no surprise that sinkholes

  • swallow up new terrain every day.

  • So we're right outside of Gainesville.

  • And this house right here has a huge

  • fucking hole in its backyard.

  • Looks like it's about 80 yards across, maybe

  • 30, 40 yards deep.

  • Just a fucking massive hole in the center of the earth.

  • We spoke to some of the neighbors.

  • No one wanted to appear on camera, but they did know the

  • people who lived here.

  • And it happened in the middle of the night.

  • They said it sounded like thunder and then suddenly went

  • outside to find their backyard had caved in.

  • EMMA KNIGHT: The Floridan aquifer, this is where we have

  • all the water that's underneath us.

  • It's kind of like a bank account, where you have a

  • certain amount of money and you have bills that need to be

  • paid every month.

  • And those could be the springs and the rivers, that could be

  • the uptake that used for plants or trees.

  • So you have withdrawals from your account, direct

  • withdrawals, which would be people watering their lawns,

  • washing their cars, cooling towers from a power plant.

  • And then there the deposits.

  • And deposits are almost exclusively from rainfall.

  • And it's just the percentage of rainfall that manages to

  • percolate down to get right back into the system.

  • Right now, we happen to be in a drought and we happen to

  • have the highest amount of consumptive use

  • that we've ever had.

  • And there isn't enough water.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: So we're trying to reach the family who

  • lived here previously, , but nobody has gone back to us.

  • It's super terrifying to know that we're in a neighborhood

  • where there's a bunch of families and literally, at any

  • point, shit like this can just open up.

  • [TED CORELESS]

  • If you've got a home with a 36 foot hole in the front yard,

  • under the current definition of what constitutes a

  • sinkhole, that's not covered.

  • Because it didn't affect the house.

  • Now forget about the fact it completely destroys the value

  • of the home.

  • The idea was introduced and then ultimately adopted in to

  • law that required all property insurers who sell insurance in

  • the state of Florida to provide sinkhole coverage.

  • When the claims got to an unacceptable level for the

  • insurance industry, because they felt they were losing

  • money over that, there was a real legislative push to try

  • and address the issue by discouraging claims.

  • I mean, you can see the amount of control that they're

  • exercising over property rights of people by being able

  • to change the definition of what constitutes a sinkhole.

  • JILL HEINERTH: In Florida, we're also over permitting.

  • We're giving permits for withdrawals of water, water

  • that we simply don't have.

  • So permits are being offered to very large industrial

  • operations, mining, or agriculture in some cases.

  • It's too much.

  • We don't have that much water to offer.

  • And because of that, that's why I see the flow declining

  • in the springs and slowing down over time.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: So if groundwater pumping empties

  • our aquifers and costs homeowners billions in

  • sinkhole damages, why do we still do it?

  • Because it's cheap.

  • With population levels skyrocketing, especially in

  • Florida, the supply authorities in charge of

  • drinking water for Tampa Bay and Saint Petersburg have to

  • find a way to keep the taps flowing.

  • Tampa Bay water has increased groundwater pumping by 400%

  • since 1960, extracting 4.2 billion gallons of water each

  • day from the Floridan aquifer just to keep up.

  • The first to pay for all this pumping, of course, is the

  • environment.

  • Florida springs have been up and rivers are soon

  • predicted to follow.

  • JILL HEINERTH: I've seen the quantity of water

  • disappearing.

  • I've seen the lifeblood of the planet slow down.

  • There's less flow coming out of these springs.

  • And I've seen a continued degrading of the quality of

  • the water and the springs and rivers.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: As more and more sinkholes opened up,

  • Tampa Bay Water was hit with a number of lawsuits from

  • property owners whose wells had been over-pumped.

  • They decided to try their hand at making ocean water

  • drinkable, so they proposed the largest desalination plant

  • in the Western Hemisphere, a notoriously expensive solution

  • Tampa's citizens weren't exactly stoked about.

  • Despite the amount of energy required, the Tampa Bay

  • desalination plant was eventually approved and today

  • provides around 10% of the region's drinking water.

  • CHUCK CARDEN: 15 years ago this region was

  • suffering some drought.

  • Looking for water sources other than groundwater, this

  • was an alternative that we chose.

  • There was a bunch of projects we call alternative sources

  • that were looked at.

  • River waters, building reservoirs, building a

  • desalinization plant.

  • We had engineers study it and found out it was

  • possible with the cost.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: And this was the most cost effective?

  • CHUCK CARDEN: It wasn't the most cost effective, but it

  • was most drought-proof.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: Can you give us information on how

  • much money it takes to keep a place like running?

  • CHUCK CARDEN: I will use the rule of thumb.

  • The plant is a 25 million gallons a day plant.

  • To run it, 25 million gallons a day, on a 365 days, it would

  • be about $20 million in operations.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: So why, in particular, is

  • this the most expensive?

  • CHUCK CARDEN: It's all because of the power and to some

  • degree the chemicals.

  • But the power is close to 50% of the operating cost.

  • Just to keep the lights and the pumps running, there's a

  • lot of horsepower.

  • It is more expensive than any other sources, and it's more

  • complicated than treating groundwater.

  • But when it gets down to you don't have any water, it's a

  • very viable solution.

  • You need to go to the hospital and the only vehicle you have

  • is an SUV, you'll get in that SUV.

  • And it's the best way to get in there.

  • JILL HEINERTH: The bottom line with drinking water is that

  • when you use groundwater--

  • Let's just say it costs a penny.

  • If you start withdrawing water from a surface water body, a

  • lake, a river, and have to clean that deliver it to the

  • public, that costs $0.10.

  • If you have to desalinate the same quantity of water, it

  • costs a dollar.

  • EMMA KNIGHT: There's springs that are drying up all over

  • the state of Florida.

  • Flow is down at all of the springs.

  • What do we have to do to keep everything from falling apart?

  • [MUSIC- STEPHEN FOSTER, "OLD FOLKS AT HOME"

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: The unfortunate reality is that

  • we're already feeling the pressures of a freshwater

  • shortage in Florida.

  • Houses are falling into sinkholes, springs are drying

  • up, and homeowners will continue getting screwed by

  • insurance companies, unless someone's

  • able to find a solution.

  • The question really is whether or not Florida will be able to

  • pull itself together before everybody ends up sitting in

  • the sinkholes in their backyards, drinking

  • desalinated ocean water out of Dixie cups.

  • MALE SPEAKER 1: No one has a right to the water.

  • MALE SPEAKER 2: It's always been somebody

  • trying to steal or water.

  • Don't take my water.

  • I depend on it for my livelihood.

  • MALE SPEAKER 3: It's the north versus south.

  • It's the war of water in California.

  • It's been going on since the Gold Rush.

  • And it's continuing to this day.

[MUSIC- STEPHEN FOSTER, "OLD FOLKS AT HOME"]

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Florida Sinkholes are Swallowing Cars: America's Water Crisis (Part 2/3)

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    Bing-Je posted on 2013/12/07
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