By Team

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — More than a thousand lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water in Florida that were nearly dried up have been restored thanks to a massive decades-long conservation effort.

Brian Armstrong is the executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. He says decades of over pumping groundwater from the aquifer led to a dramatic decline of water levels.

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But the conservation plan turned everything around.

Local governments and utilities worked together, spending billions to create alternative water supplies. They built one of the largest desalination plants in North America, where salt is removed from sea water, along with a 15-billion-gallon surface water reservoir.

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“We like to say you’re able to choose the right source at the right time,” Armstrong said.

Even as the population in the area has grown by about a million people, the alternative supplies have cut groundwater withdrawal by nearly 50%, allowing the waterbodies to heal.

“What we achieved was a way to develop a sustainable, safe drinking water supply while recovering the environment, while growing in population,” according to Armstrong. He says it’s a model for other regions that could face water shortages in the coming years.

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Experts predict by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed regions. Team