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New water rules and methods aim to prevent sinkholes | News

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New water rules and methods aim to prevent sinkholes
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Plant City, Florida - Michael White is firing up the red Massey Ferguson tractor that he'll use to prepare his strawberry fields this fall. Farming is in his blood. "I've been out in the fields since I was three," he says from the tractor's cab.

But next strawberry season, White will be trying something new on his farm. Heavy equipment worked for months to dig a five-acre reservoir at the edge of his fields. Now just a giant hole, it has the potential to help out White's farm and the entire Plant City/Dover area.

"To have the water runoff we need and to basically recycle it, is going to mean a lot to us," White says.

Dry as a bone now, it takes a bit of imagination to envision the giant pond months from now. During the rainy season, the reservoir should gradually fill and eventually hold about 23 million gallons of water. According to SWIFTMUD calculations, that's enough for White to pump water on his fields for six nights during a freeze. And that's millions of gallons of water that won't be pumped from the groundwater system.

During an unprecedented 11-day freeze in January 2010, pumping by farmers desperate to protect their crops caused a lot of damage. Sinkholes developed and local wells went dry. At a series of public hearings, residents demanded the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWIFTMUD) do something.

"When you see 760 dry well complaints and over 100 sinkholes in the area, there's obviously a water resource issue we need to focus on," says Eric DeHaven, a SWIFTMUD geologist.

SWIFTMUD now has some new pumping rules for farmers and the agency is also footing most of the bill for water-saving projects like White's reservoir. "We anticipate projects like this all over the Dover/Plant City area," says DeHaven. For more information SWIFTMUD's freeze management plan for the area click here.

No one wants to see another big freeze, but when temps do drop, White and his neighbors will rely on this new big dig.

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