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The dry season, compounded by below average rainfall, has left the lake's average depth just above 11 feet -- four feet below its historical average for this time of year. If the lake dips below 10.2 feet, the pumps would be required to replenish the canals that sugar cane, vegetable and other growers use for irrigation.
"It appears that they are going to be needed sooner, rather than later," said Barbara Miedema, vice president for the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. "This is very, very, very nerve-wracking for growers."
The pumps provide some reassurance for the agricultural community, already struggling with water restrictions that reduce withdrawals from the lake by 15 percent. Officials at the South Florida Water Management District have warned that the restrictions could increase to 30 percent this month and then go to 45 percent if dry conditions continue.
The pumps are a welcome step, Miedema said, but the water management district brought in temporary pumps during the 2001 drought, and growers still suffered $100 million loss in crops.
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