Action News Jax Investigates: Growth outpacing current water supply in Jacksonville-area

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Six million more people are expected to move to Florida in the next 15 years, 150,000 people in Jacksonville alone.

In St. Johns County, in 2014, there were fewer than 2,600 new single-family homes added.
Five years later, the county is on pace to double that.



The area is growing so fast, the biggest water supplier JEA is projecting that local demand will outpace groundwater supplies as early as 2035. So Action News Jax asked the question: will we run out of water?

Northeast Florida is thirsty and JEA quenches much of that thirst. One-hundred and ten million gallons of water flow every day to homes in our area. That's enough to fill 183 Olympic-size swimming pools.

RELATED: Click to see the areas of St. Johns County serviced by JEA

Kimberly Kalke lives in northern St. Johns County, which relies on JEA.

"I'm very concerned about the water supply," Kalke said.

"This is full throttle," she said, as her water trickled out of the faucet.

Action News Jax told you about a drop in water pressure for JEA customers along County Road 210 that happened in May. It was dry and hotter than normal. Yards in Kalke's neighborhood and others throughout JEA's service area sucked up supplies, so JEA slowed the flow by dropping the pressure to save enough water in their tanks in case there was a fire where they would need a lot of water fast.

May was like a cold shower for JEA, which is now looking at its plans for growth, especially on the southside and St. Johns County.

"Will there come a time when we just can't grow anymore?" Action News Jax's John Bachman asked.
"No. There's always something you can do," said Deryle Calhoun, vice president and general manager of water at JEA.

Calhoun gave us a tour of one the utility's 38 water treatment plants, which pull water from 140 wells tapped into the aquifer.

RELATED: Q & A with JEA: Action News Jax asks questions about the Jacksonville area water supply and growth

The water is aerated, stored in big tanks, chlorinated and then pumped out to your house. It's the cheapest way to treat water, about a dollar, 40 cents for a thousand gallons.

But JEA's permit to pull water from the aquifer expires in 2031 and more pipes are going in the ground, faster than almost anywhere else in the country, JEA served 264,000 homes last year. In five years, that's expected to grow by 60,000!

Calhoun said his team plans 20 to 30 years ahead. He said while we won't run out of water, what we pay will go up, if we don't conserve now.

"It's not that we're going to run out of water, it's that we might run out of a cheaper supply of water?" Bachman asked.

"Very well said. We always want to keep our costs as low as possible to keep rates low," Calhoun said.

Calhoun said one possible solution to grow demand is building a plant that turns waste water into drinking water.

"They're coming. We're going to have to find the resource," Calhoun said.

There is some good news: New homes are more efficient, which has dropped average water consumption from the peak in 2007 at 125 gallons per person per day to 80 gallons per person per day last year.

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