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2010 in review: Locals haven't forgotten sinkholes caused by irrigation

On Jan. 13 in Plant City, technician Richard Shea examines a sinkhole that opened next to the westbound lanes of Interstate 4 between Alexander and Thonotosassa roads.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

On Jan. 13 in Plant City, technician Richard Shea examines a sinkhole that opened next to the westbound lanes of Interstate 4 between Alexander and Thonotosassa roads.

"You have two plagues of living in paradise: hurricanes and sinkholes."

— Harley Means, head of hydro­geology at the state Department of Environmental Protection

DOVER — Just a few weeks after the ball dropped in 2010, the earth started to do the same.

One by one, dozens of sinkholes opened in agricultural areas of eastern Hillsborough after a record-breaking 11-day cold snap. The holes were the result of farmers' heavy groundwater pumping aimed at covering crops with a protective layer of ice.

Most of those sinkholes have been filled in by now, but the locals haven't forgotten. The January 2010 freeze now causes concern beyond the fields every time the thermometer dips toward freezing.

One recent morning, a man who lives in a mobile home next door to a lot that was swallowed by a sinkhole in January said he often thinks of moving.

Water officials didn't disregard the problem. The Southwest Florida Water Management District spent months hammering out rule changes that set a minimum aquifer level of 10 feet above sea level, changed the process for well complaints and urged farmers to adopt alternative freeze-protection methods.

So far this winter, there have only been a handful of freezing nights, and the subsequent agricultural pumping hasn't been extensive enough to cause major damage.

Farmers hope that a more favorable La Nina weather pattern will make the rest of the season mild, but as always, it's up to Mother Nature.

Kim Wilmath, Times staff writer

2010 in review: Locals haven't forgotten sinkholes caused by irrigation 12/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 30, 2010 3:30am]
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