PLANT CITY, Fla. - Farmer Carl Grooms has been growing strawberries for 38 years. He said "It's a way of life."
But the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) believes Carl's way of life and other farmers in Plant City and Dover must change.
For 11 days in January, when temperatures dipped below freezing, farmers used one billion gallons of water per night trying to save their crops. "That dropped the aquifer about 60 feet in some areas in the Dover-Plant City area," said Robyn Felix from Swiftmud.
According to officials, that drop in water caused more than one hundred and forty sinkholes, including one on Interstate 4 that led to major traffic delays.
The lowered aquifer level was also blamed for more than 750 wells that went dry.
Swiftmud plans to have farmers cut water usage by 20 percent when cold weather hits.
Some believe it can be done. "I think new technology coming will maybe help us hit their percentages," said Grooms, the farmer.
To conserve water, farmers can build tailwater recovery ponds that catch runoff, and use the water a second time.
Those types of ponds are expensive, though, starting at one hundred thousand dollars. An expense that some farmers say could possibly put them out of business.
"I am not happy," said Grooms about the pond, "but If that is what it takes to grow strawberries, we will have to do that."
Jimmy and Carol Brown have a home in Plant CIty with a well. Their's never ran dry like so many others did. Jimmy is happy Swiftmud is doing something about farmers and water usage, "because some people have had dry wells from the pumping of water from strawberry farmers."
Swiftmud held the meeting at the Hillsborough Community College in Plant City at 6:30pm.
Stay with ABC Action News as the story develops.
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