for National Geographic News
In water-starved Florida, the Suwannee River is a treasure more precious than gold.
So far the river, which winds its way for more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) through northern Florida, has washed away every attempt to stem it.
(See an interactive map of the Suwannee River.)
Without any dams, it is the only undisturbed major river system in the southeastern United States.
But Florida's explosive population growthand the unquenchable thirst that comes with ithas some wondering how long the Suwannee can keep flowing at its current levels.
"It's kind of an oasis that's now surrounded by extensive development on all sides," said Brian Katz, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Tallahassee.
According to Kirk Webster, the deputy director of the Suwannee River Water Management District in Live Oak, the local population is expected to increase by nearly 65 percent, from 282,000 in 2000 to 462,000 in 2020.
"The thing that has contributed to the preservation of the Suwannee River more than anything else has been a lack of population," Webster said.
"But that's changing, and we're now starting to see the effects of this increased population."
The region's water problem has also recently been compounded by drought, which prompted officials last week to issue a water shortage advisory for the Suwannee. Water managers are calling on all users, from homeowners to farmers, to reduce their water consumption.
Tampa and St. Petersburg
The demand for Suwannee's water extends far beyond the Suwannee itself.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES