Imagine turning the faucet on a hot summer day in South Florida and nothing comes out.
This was almost the case in West Palm Beach in 2011, when a significant drought lowered the level of the local lakes from which the city drew its drinking water. The city was within weeks of running out of water.
West Palm Beach is not an isolated case. Much of South Florida gets its drinking water from the Everglades, which is involved in a complex federal restoration project in which managers are trying to balance environmental needs with the state’s agricultural interests.
“The Everglades Ecosystem is the drinking water supply for 7.9 million Floridians,” said Dawn Shirreffs, senior policy advisor for the Everglades Foundation. “Local folks need to be active and stay in support of Everglades restoration because it has a direct impact on our daily lives.”
Shirreffs is one of three speakers who will lead a panel discussion on water at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Coral Gables Museum, which last week opened an exhibit called “Water is Life.” Douglas Yoder, deputy director of Miami-Dade’s Water and Sewer Department, and Silvia L. Garzoli, Ph.D., an oceanographer, will join Shirreffs on the panel.
“Water is everything,” said Rosa Lowinger, who curated the exhibit and who has almost 30 years of experience in sculpture and decorative art. “We are water, and without water we don’t sustain ourselves.”
Lowinger, who worked with 11 Coral Gables galleries and students from the Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Miami, chose 26 pieces to display for the exhibit.
“What is interesting is that we have such a good variety,” Lowinger said. “We have color photography, we have black-and-white photography, we have paintings, works on papers, and there’s quite a number of sculptural pieces.”
Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason emphasized the exhibit’s important teaching role.
“We were able to bring arts relating to water into the museum, as well as having a panel of experts to remind people of how important those rising waters and falling waters are,” he said.
Droughts are not the only threat facing Florida. Water managers also have to contend with the impact of flooding during the rainy season.
“This summer with the heavy rains, we wound up having to dump massive amounts of water from Lake Okeechobee out into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River estuaries,” Shirreffs said. “That resulted in unbelievable ecological and economic damage.”
Chantal Gabriel, a creative-writing student at the University of Miami, attended the exhibit opening.
“It gives me a sense of unity, of how much we're connected to nature,” said Gabriel. “Water is essential, and there are some really interesting pieces that can promote conversation.”
Among those pieces: two sculptures by Lauren Shapiro, 29, a visual artist and UM graduate student. She described one of her works as a “ceramic vessel that is a highly texturized piece, a hybrid between a coral reef with human features. . . . Sometimes, it seems that nature is very inhuman, but it’s the idea that the sea is alive, a coral reef is alive.”
The exhibit benefits students such as Shapiro, connecting them to local galleries.
“If I were an artist that had that opportunity, I would really put my mind into trying to come up with something really out of this world,” said Sergio Cernuda, senior art consultant for Cernuda Arte. “You just never know who is looking.”
Cernuda Arte lent the exhibition two pieces by Manuel Mendive, an Afro-Cuban Yoruba priest from West Africa.
“He was really the perfect fit,” said Cernuda. “Many times, [Mendive] depicts Yemaya, who is the goddess of water of this religion. Their way of life is to protect water and to keep it clean.”
For Yoder, the deputy director of Miami-Dade’s Water and Sewer Department, the exhibit brings to life the importance of water — a fact he is focused on.
“In the last 100 plus years, public supply systems have come to be taken for granted by the public in general, which is not at all the case in the rest of the world,” Yoder said. “I think any effort to [sensitize] people to the value of water is a good thing to do.”