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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection overview on sinkholes
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.
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.
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.