The Upper Floridan Aquifer (UFA) is among the largest, most productive aquifers in the world and is a vital regional resource shared between Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. The UFA supports productive agricultural and silvicultural industries and provides drinking water to more than 10 million people. A significant portion of the UFA is unconfined in the study region (i.e., not protected by an overlying clay layer, see blue regions in the map below) and thus is both rapidly recharged by typically abundant rainfall and easily polluted by a variety of land uses. As a result, the aquifer faces significant threats to water quality and quantity, which could potentially harm food security, fiber production, and vital ecosystem services.
Internal and external challenges to the aquifer include:
- Increased water use to support population and agricultural growth
- Degradation of water quality and habitat
- Varying regulatory standards, policies, and land- and water-use practices that result in uneven resource impacts.
- Climate variability that results in periodic drought
- Agricultural in-migration from more severely drought-stricken areas of the US
- Intensification of silviculture due to increasing international demand for bioenergy products.
Achieving agricultural water security while meeting environmental standards in the region may require transformative watershed-scale modifications to current land- and water-use patterns. Such changes could alter livelihoods, the regional economy, rural communities, and national food security, reducing the probability of widespread acceptance of such practices among diverse stakeholders. An accurate estimate of the social, environmental, and economic trade-offs associated with these potential changes is needed to build support for policies and financial incentives that will protect agricultural water security and environmental quality.