The Florida Consortium (FC), a group of researchers from Florida State University, University of Florida and the University of Miami, has worked over the last five years to develop technologies and management approaches that facilitate the use of climate information in agricultural decision-making. The framework developed and utilized by the FC combining climate information generation, dissemination techniques and strategies, development and provision of interactive tools for users is employed for studying water resources in Florida. The timing and amount of rainfall influences other hydrologic processes such as streamflow, runoff, evapotranspiration, infiltration, and the resulting water stage in Lake Okeechobee, often termed the heart of the South Florida water system. While retaining the basic framework described above, the approach will emphasize a systemic understanding of various components of the water resources decision and policy-making arena and their interrelations. These include the system of legal rights, principal institutions and socio-political dynamics that frame the decision-making process.
The main research goals are to describe the water resources decision and policy-making in Florida and its evolution in the context of demographic, environmental and socio-political change. The explosive growth in the region over the last half-century and, consequently, intensified competition for water resources has led to widespread environmental degradation. A case-study approach focusing on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP), promulgated to undo the extensive damage to South Florida ecosystems in general, and the Everglades in particular, and as a corollary safeguard the water resources of the region, is employed.
Decision-making by water resources managers in Florida is done taking into account not only well-established policy goals such as flood prevention, environmental protection and water supply, but also the ever-shifting balance between them. Improved use of climate information, including forecasts, can provide increased flexibility to decision-makers and ultimately better match between demand and supply. To this end, a partnership with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is proposed which will provide in-depth understanding of the decision cycle and the constraints within which it operates. The on-going "Adaptive Assessment" program under the aegis of CERP to test and adopt management technologies and practices ranging from climate outlooks to watershed planning is particularly well-suited for the purpose of the present study.
A systemic understanding of the annual water resources decision-making calendar in South Florida can help to delineate the critical junctures for the use of climate information. In addition to analysis of the existing use of climate information for reservoir management (e.g., Lake Okeechobbee), consideration of potential use of climate information for a range of activities related to water management including, for instance, operation of groundwater wellfields and consumptive use permitting, can also enhance the efficiency of decision-making. Study of perception of climate information and its utility vis-à-vis overall management goals among managers as well as stakeholders will help in improving understanding of constraints that limit its use. The sources of data will include interviews with key decision- makers, stakeholders, policy guidelines and management protocols.