Creating a Sustainable Future for the Upper Floridan Aquifer in Florida and Georgia

Lainie Pomerleau, Phd |

Over 10 million people depend on the Floridan Aquifer for their freshwater. South Georgia relies on the Upper Floridan Aquifer – the portion of of the Floridan underlying south Georgia and north Florida – for drinking water, agriculture, and support for the fiber industry.

Dr. Puneet Dwivedi

The Floridan Aquifer Collaborative Engagement for Sustainability project (FACETS) is creating solutions to ensure the ecological health of the Upper Floridan Aquifer while protecting south Georgia’s agricultural and silvicultural economic stability.

FACETS is an interdisciplinary project developing innovative research that will help ensure the sustainability of the aquifer’s water quality, quantity, and habitat. The work of FACETS involves personnel from the University of Florida, Albany State University, Auburn University, and the University of Georgia, who is represented by five UGA faculty members, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students.

Dr. Puneet Dwivedi, River Basin Center affiliate and professor of sustainability sciences in UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, is among those UGA faculty members and a key member of FACETS’ team.

The Floridan Aquifer covers 100,000 square miles and is considered by the United States Geological Survey to be one of the world’s most productive aquifers. A significant portion of the aquifer is unconfined, which means the aquifer recharges quickly from rainfall because it is not overlain by a protective clay layer. That particular geologic characteristic, however, also allows the aquifer to become quickly polluted by agricultural infiltration, a situation with direct bearing on south Georgia’s economic and ecological systems.

The Upper Floridan Aquifer is close to land surface in some areas. (Image: USGS, 2018)

FACETS approached Dwivedi because of his expertise in land use. “My research efforts in forestry, water, and carbon help people see the economic and ecological payoffs improved practices can yield,” Dwivedi explains, “and a big part of FACETS’ work is figuring out the best agricultural and silvicultural practices to reduce the impact on water flows in south Georgia.”

Dwivedi’s work is helping south Georgia’s agricultural and forest industries “figure out the economic tradeoffs between water quality, quantity, and practice.” He and his team, which includes George Vellidis, Wes Porter, Carrie Furman, and Amanda Smith, all from UGA’s College of Agricultural and  Environmental Science, began their research by examining currently used farming practices for growing corn, cotton, and peanuts. Dwivedi and his team followed that research with experiments designed to explore how those practices impact water quality and flows across Georgia.

“Based on that data,” Dwivedi explains, “we can establish new practices that are economically and environmentally sustainable, which allow farmers and forest landowners  to save money and lessen the impact of pollution and overuse on the Upper Floridan Aquifer.”

Workshops bring regional stakeholders and experts together to explore economic-environmental tradeoffs (Image: FACETS)

A critical component of FACETS’ overall plan is the bringing together of stakeholder communities and freshwater experts. Dwivedi’s work with the project, for example, involves scientific and economic modeling, as well as engaging with local communities.

“It’s important for scientists to be seen as present and working with local stakeholders,” says Dwivedi, who is also one of FACETS’ modeling team coordinators. He continually seeks feedback on his research from local farmers, landowners, and nonprofit organizations “to make sure our modeling reflects what is happening locally to ensure that science and practice are complementary to each other.”

Puneet Dwivedi’s work as a professor and RBC affiliate with the multi-state, interdisciplinary FACETS organization connects freshwater science to the physical and economic welfare of those living in Georgia and the southeastern United States. Dwivedi’s treatment of ecologic and economic health as complementary, rather than mutually exclusive issues is helping create a sustainable future for the Upper Floridan Aquifer.