Florida is riddled with sinkholes due to its karst topography. Sometimes these sinkholes can cause extensive damage to infrastructure and homes. It has been suggested that agricultural practices, such as sprinkler irrigation methods used to protect crops, can increase the development of sinkholes, particularly when temperatures drop below freezing, causing groundwater levels to drop quickly during groundwater pumping. In the strawberry growing region, Dover/Plant City, Florida, the effects have caused water shortages resulting in dry- wells and ground subsidence through the development of sinkholes that can be costly to maintain and repair. In this study, we look at how frost-freeze events have affected West Central Florida over the past 25 years with detailed comparisons made between two cold-years (with severe frost-freeze events) and a warm year (no frost-freeze events). We analyzed the spatial and temporal correlation between strawberry farming freeze protection practices and the development of sinkholes/dry well complaints, and assessed the economic impact of such events from a water management perspective by evaluating the cost of repairing and drilling new wells and how these compared with using alternative crop-protection methods. We found that the spatial distribution of sinkholes was non-random during both frost-freeze events. A strong correlation between sinkhole occurrence and water extraction and minimum temperatures was found. Furthermore as temperatures fall below 41°F and water levels decrease by more than 20 ft, the number of sinkholes increase greatly (N >10). At this time alternative protection methods such as freeze-cloth are cost prohibitive in comparison to repairing dry wells. In conclusion, the findings from this study are applicable in other agricultural areas and can be used to develop comprehensive water management plans in areas where the abstraction of large quantities of water occur.
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