The Retiree’s Bermuda Triangle: Water Shortages, Sinkholes, and Humidity

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

February 11, 2015 — Baby boomers have many concerns as they contemplate their retirements, but some issues resonate more than others. The three issues that keep coming up week after week in your comments and emails are: water shortages (in Arizona and the southwest), sinkholes (in Florida), and humidity (mostly in Florida and the Southeast). This article will explore those using a combination of input from our members’ Comments to previous Blog posts as well as a look at the scientific literature.

1. Water Shortages
Our recent article by Harv on why he chose Tucson generated a river of comments about water shortages. Some of those provided helpful references that shed scientific information on the issue. In particular we thank LJ for these 3:

Tucson Water Plan
Marana: The Future of Our Water
The Arizona Water Drought

Looking at the Tucson water plan in particular, one could conclude that Arizona is not going to take this problem lying down. The city has an aggressive plan using conservation, recycled water, and sustainable use of groundwater to plan for the future. The current long term drought in the west has not helped, but even with that, doomsday warnings do not seem appropriate at the present time.

Member comments about water:
Dave Hughes: Regarding the water, Phoenix still has an adequate supply. We’re sitting on a large underground aquifer, the Salt River is dammed up in four places upstream to the east which feeds our canal system, and we get water from the Colorado River. That said, as the area continues to grow we will need to start conserving more. People water lawns and shrubs a lot, and we should transition to more desert landscaping. But I don’t foresee a day when we will turn on the spigot and nothing comes out.

Harv: I agree with Dave Hughes. In spite of all the frequently-heard forecasts of imminent doom because of water availability, the fact is that both Phoenix and Tucson are in fairly good shape. Both have been saving water and pumping it into the aquifer to be available in future years. The Arizona Daily Star reported last June that when the Director of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association was asked if Phoenix could run out of water if the Central Arizona Project has a few dry years, her answer was “Emphatically not!” And as Tucson News Now reported last June, “Tucson Water has set itself up so that it’s banking water for a potential future shortage. It’s likely Tucson will still be chugging along 50 years out.”

Many people hear a horror story about the “water situation” in the Southwest or Southern Arizona and wouldn’t consider moving here. And those people shouldn’t move here, because those fears and worries would preclude their enjoying the Arizona experience. For me and others who trust the expert estimates of water reserves, we don’t live with that fear and so we can enjoy living here.

Dust and dry skin
While we are on the subject of water shortages, related concerns among our members are
dry skin and dust. Here once again our members have chipped in with helpful comments from folks like:
Farmer_walking_in_dust_storm_Cimarron_County_Oklahoma2

Dave Hughes: Haboobs (dust storms) only happen about 3-4 times a year. Most of them aren’t anything to worry about. They last about an hour and when they’re over, you sweep off your patio, backwash your pool, and maybe pick up a couple fallen tree branches. That big one that happened in July, 2011 that made the news everywhere was a freak, and even it wasn’t very destructive.

LJ: Some people require a humidifier in the home either always or at night, I don’t. In the driest winter months the humidity can be as low as 8% so you need to be conscious of fluid intake, when no sweating occurs. Yup, lots of moisturizer in the summer.

Ginger: Allergies, sinus, skin… all my stuff is better. I breathe better. Less allergies, by far. No sinus issues like I have in damp, mildewy places. Yes, lots of sun screen and lotion, but my skin was already old before I got here.

Harv: The only skin issue I have had is with cracking heels. I need to periodically put cream (not lotion, but cream!) around the edges of the bottoms of my feet to keep them supple and not crack. My wife has had no skin issues, but most people seem to need to lubricate their skin.
We don’t have a humidifier and haven’t found that our nasal passages dry out. In Wisconsin, we needed a humidifier in heating season due to the low humidity … but we don’t need a humidifier here even with much lower humidity. Strange but true!
We both use BiPAPs with oxygen and do put water in our BiPAP humidifiers at night.

2. Sinkholes
Some sinkholes are caused by karst processes—for example, the chemical dissolution of carbonate rocks. According to the Florida DEP website, sinkholes are a common feature of Florida’s landscape. They are only one of many kinds of karst landforms, which include caves, disappearing streams, springs, and underground drainage systems. Dissolution of carbonate rocks begins when they are exposed to acidic water. Most rainwater is slightly acidic and usually becomes more acidic as it moves through decaying plant debris. Over eons of time, this persistent erosional process has created extensive underground voids and drainage systems in much of the carbonate rocks throughout the state. Collapse of overlying sediments into the underground cavities produces sinkholes.
Sinkhole

The biggest sinkholes
Two of the biggest sinkholes in the U.S. are in Florida and Louisiana, according to Wikipedia:
Devil’s Millhopper – Gainesville, Florida. 120 ft (37 m) deep, 500 ft (150 m) wide. Twelve springs, some more visible than others, feed a pond at the bottom.

Lake Peigneur – New Iberia, Louisiana. Original depth 1,500 ft (460 m), currently 142 ft (43 m) at Diamond Crystal Salt Mine collapse.

Other states with very large sinkholes are Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, Tennessee, Utah, and New Mexico.

Top 10 Florida counties for sinkholes
As reported by the Insurance Journal the Top 10 Sinkhole-Prone Counties in Florida are listed below. The data comes from RiskMeter, which has a large database of sinkholes. Note that most of these counties are in the western and central parts of the state.

Pasco
Hernando
Hillsborough
Marion
Pinellas
Citrus
Polk
Orange
Seminole
Lake

All of Florida is prone to sinkholes but some areas are more prone than others, like the Tampa area. Other parts of the U.S. also have Maps of Florida Sinkholes by County

What can you do about sinkholes?
You can’t do anything to prevent one, but you can try to avoid them. Florida insurers are required to offer sinkhole insurance. But here is the catch – the insurers have a vested interest in knowing where sinkholes are most likely, and your insurance rate will reflect that. So if the rate is too high, perhaps you should buy your dream home elsewhere.

3. Humidity
Many of the members and visitors to Topretirements are very concerned about high humidity. It is often cited as a major reason for why many folks decide not to retire in Florida or other parts of the south. As you can see from the links below, there are cities with high humidity in surprising places – like the northeast and west (San Francisco and Rochester are in the top 10). However, there is a big difference between high humidity combined with high temperatures, which occurs throughout the Southeast from Florida into most of Texas, and areas of the country with moderate temps, such as San Francisco. You can use the links below to get a better idea of where the humidity ranges in different parts of the country.

Unfortunately there is not much you can do about humidity if it bothers you. The choices are stark: you can either stay inside in the air conditioning, or move somewhere else.

List of the top 10 most humid cities in the U.S.
Average humidity by state (includes AM and PM readings)
Current Relative Humidity Map of the U.S.
Climate areas of U.S. including humidity

Even bigger issues
Although water, sinkholes and humidity resonate hard among our members, we are pretty sure that the #1 concern of most retirees is having enough money for a comfortable retirement, along with where to live (see the results of our 2012 Member Survey on “Retirement Confidence“). But if you have successfully dealt with those issues, we hope that this information on water shortages, sinkholes, and humidity has been helpful.

Comments? What are the corners of your retirement Bermuda Triangle? Are they the ones we’ve touched on here, or are there are other things you are concerned about that might keep you from a happy retirement.



Posted by Admin on February 11th, 2015

15 Comments »

  1. I’m not sure how helpful the humidity info is since humidity is not what causes relative discomfort. To find if an area is comfortable you need to look at dew point, not humidity. If you consult a relative dewpoint map of the states, you will find that dewpoint tends to be much lower west of the Rockies. I lived in San Francisco for 30+ years and was never aware it had high humidity because the dewpoint is not high.

    by Ginger — February 11, 2015

  2. Regarding the Bermuda Triangle article: we bought a home in Port Charlotte, Florida but have not relocated yet. Water was a strong consideration in our choice. No shortage there. We’re on a canal and have city water. We also have a well that we can use twice a week to water our lawn for free. Sinkholes appear to be a central Florida issue, but I noticed that the PBS show Nova has a recent program that I should probably watch on that topic. And then there’s humidity. Yes, it’s brutal in Florida in the summer. But here in the Chicago winter, we have to strap steel coils to our feet to avoid slipping on ice, and the air hurts our faces – for almost six months. We’re essentially prisoners in our homes. In Florida I can take a dip in my pool on a sultry July afternoon and get a little Vitamin D from the sun at the same time. And by the way, our pool heater is a reversible heat pump, so the water is always refreshing, not an overheated bath tub like the Gulf of Mexico becomes by August.

    by Vic Larson — February 11, 2015

  3. I lived in San Francisco on two occasions and always considered it to be humid, especially on days when the sun was shining rather than being shrouded in fog.
    When I’m sweating or sticky when doing almost nothing, it’s humid!

    by Desert Dude — February 11, 2015

  4. I lived in Tucson for nearly 20 years and recently moved from there.
    During my time living there water was a continual issue of concern, and local city council members, politicians and the water companies insisted that water was readily available and always would be…but it came at an ever increasing monthly cost–outrageous!.
    Whenever we were asked to conserve, and that was almost monthly, the water company would send out rate increase notices based on “low water consumption.” Well duh, we were simply doing what they asked and promptly being penalized for it.
    When I talked with the appropriate professors at the U of A about the long range water outlook for the area they were not particularly optimistic and refuted the notion that an ample, almost unlimited amount of water was below the city in huge aquifers and also squelched the alleged perpetual availability of it via the Colorado River Project.
    By the time we moved from a development called SaddleBrooke our monthly water bills (base rate) was approaching $80. The same cost issue held true for our friends in and around Tucson, Oro Valley and Pima County. Also troubling was the confirmation of a nasty toxic dump site referred to by locals as “Trowbridge” but is actually the Page Trowbridge Ranch Landfill (PTRL) located near Oracle Junction at the SW corner of SaddleBrooke Ranch. The developer managed to have the news about this site squelched when he began development of this expansion of his SaddleBrooke Two community.
    Water IS and Always Will Be a legitimate issue of concern for people living in and around Tucson. Those who want to minimize the significance of this matter have either never lived there and dug into it via reputable sources, or simply believe what they hear from those having a financial interest in the topic.
    Buyer Beware!

    by Desert Dude — February 11, 2015

  5. By the time we moved from a development called SaddleBrooke our monthly water bills (base rate) was approaching $80.

    Well, here in moderate climate but recently very dry Berkeley California, my water bill is $140 per
    month. I am a one person household, I try to watch my water consumption, but I do have
    landscaping to take care of occasionally.

    by Tammy — February 11, 2015

  6. Desert Dude, from what I know of it, I agree with you, the great positives of the “abundant water” anywhere in the Southwest is largely proliferated by those with a vested interest If you want to sell, you need people to believe there is water. Regardless, I also agree with Harv: “Many people hear a horror story about the “water situation” in the Southwest or Southern Arizona and wouldn’t consider moving here. And those people shouldn’t move here, because those fears and worries would preclude their enjoying the Arizona experience.” Amen.

    Now humidity is something I have more experience having lived in south central NC for most of my life. As the article said, all you can do is get used to it or stay indoors. Since I’m outdoors most of the time during waking hours year round, I’ve gotten used to it despite originally being from the NE. Some advice to cope: 1) Learn to enjoy sitting and stewing — almost any movement can bring discomfort. A cool drink is most pleasing! 2) If you want to work and play in the humidity, wear a head band. It’s amazing how much of the discomfort comes from heavy sweating on your forehead and face. I use a rolled up bandana even in mild humidity. 3) Install fans (ceiling or floor mounted) in areas you frequent. Mostly you need to provide your own breeze and a nice fan, even on low, is a great help. 4) We don’t have a pool, but a “hot” tub is just as comforting. I have a friend to keeps his set to 85 degrees for the summer. Different strokes — I always like soothing heat on sore muscles and joints, so I keep mine near body temp or 98*. Comfort to joints but still washes the heat and sweat away. (Actually, any temp even just a degree or two below 98.7, will tend to cool you.)

    Rich

    by Rich — February 12, 2015

  7. Phoenix has underground water, as was posted by someone else…my bill is approx. $42.00 which includes water and trash pick up from the City of Phoenix. People that live here are not concerned. Find what makes you happy, do your own research instead of listening to a lot of opinions which may not be accurate. What works for one, does not work for another.. We love it here! Awesome place to retire in my opinion and experience here!!!!

    by Loralee — February 12, 2015

  8. Water is a challenge for California, the Southwest, and the Mountain West. Without any doubt the West is dry. Growing up in the semi – arid San Fernando Valley during the 1950’s and 1960’s; a luscious water consuming lawn was everything. Now many of those lawns are being replaced with boulders, rock, drought tolerant plants, and compressed dirt. Lawns today are nowhere as green as lawns of yesteryear. In the Los Angeles area; as I always compare my water bill year over year; one thing is for certain: I continually use less water, and my bill continues to increase substantially. Yes, I believe we will have water for the foreseeable future.
    We will just pay dearly for each precious drop.

    by Bubbajog — February 12, 2015

  9. Here in Palm Beach, Florida: Hurricanes. Too much H20 here; to little out West. Imagine if the money and lives spent in the Middle and Far East had been dedicated to building an Interstate Hydroway System.

    by OldNassau — February 13, 2015

  10. Ask to see the “Un-metered water report” (leaks) from your water provider. You may be surprised to see how much water is lost before it reaches your meter.

    by John H — February 16, 2015

  11. This comment from Kim highlights another important concern people should have about retirement:

    I can’t seem to find information on the following subject. My husband and I currently live about 2 hours from a major city, Seattle, in a town of 9000. We have been here 8 years. We do have a local hospital but heart attacks, major injuries, and cancer treatments are all sent to the city involving lengthy commutes. Major shopping is an hour away. My husband has been retired for 8 years and I am about to retire. The dilemma is, do we stay rural as we age or do we move closer to a much larger populated area with more facilities? Are there others who have made this decision? How important is it to factor in the need to be close to major medical facilities? My husband is handicapped and can’t travel. As much as I love the rural living, I feel that perhaps we need to move closer to an urban area. I would appreciate any input to rural and isolated vs urban and crowded. Thanks!

    by Admin — March 19, 2015

  12. dear Kim,
    My heart goes out to you, as i too, love the rural and outdoors. I am hoping to find both – good medical facilities close by and a relatively uncrowded home situation. I know that i will have to sacrifice the peace and quiet if it comes to that; but how i long to be surrounded by nature, not people. My biggest question is: how far am i willing to travel just to get to the local supermarket, etc. I’m looking ahead 10 – 15 years when everything will be different for my husband and me. I’ll be traveling out this spring, so i’ll see what exists. My very best to you!

    by ella — March 20, 2015

  13. Yes, being close to a hospital is very important later in life. My Mom lived downtown in an older house but had a beautiful shaded front yard and back yard. Her house was only about 1 1/2 miles from the hospital. It came in handy more than once when she was ill. She was transported one time by ambulance directly to the emergency room. Other times she was very sick and I was able to drive her and get her there in minutes. However, look into the hospital you might live near. Our hospital merged with a larger hospital and now no longer has a birthing center and they just announced that they are closing the ICU department. Mergers are not always GOOD! So if we need ICU it is over 20 miles away. Going back and forth in the hellish traffic we have would be a nightmare to do the round trip of 40+ miles a day. Plus, the older you are the less apt you will want to drive that far or can drive that far. It is a major consideration to move closer to medical facilities you may use. Mom always loved it that she was just minutes to everything when she was healthy. Close to shopping, doctors and hospital and her home was still a little piece of paradise right near town. It broke my heart when I sold it after she passed.

    by Louise — March 20, 2015

  14. Editor’s note: Over the years we get a lot of requests from Members asking about places to retire that fit their political leanings. This is an area we fear to tread, because it usually produces more than a tolerable share of people from each side of the spectrum who are a little too convinced of the correctness of their position. But for those who want to see the lay of the land, we recommend these series of maps from the Wall St. Journal, which will show you by county and demographics how different places in the USA voted in the 2012 Presidential election.
    http://graphics.wsj.com/americamapped/?mod=djemCapitalJournalDaybreak

    by Admin — April 23, 2015

  15. This was posted by Jim:
    The question that I wanted to ask you. Has anyone done any research on the water problems in the Southwest, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and southern California. Maybe some of your subscribers might want to know before they buy in that area? Thanks again for your time. Jim

    Editor’s Comment: Hopefully this article will address your question (comment came in by email so we posted it here so others could see it)

    by Admin — December 11, 2015

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