Blessed with some of Broward's last shreds of open land, Sunrise has blossomed into Fort Lauderdale's western bookend, with a growing skyline abutting the Everglades.
But strict water limits in South Florida threaten to halt feverish growth in large cities like Sunrise unless officials spend tens of millions of dollars for alternative sources of drinking water.
“It is the 500-pound gorilla in the room," said Deputy Mayor Roger Wishner. “We are running out of water. This could affect the quality of life for all residents."
If Sunrise, which already withdraws more than its water permit allows, fails to find a new supply, it may have to ration water for the 215,000 residents it serves within its own limits, along with Weston, Southwest Ranches, western Davie and some parts of unincorporated Broward, Wishner said.
The city could also lose millions in tax revenue tied to new development.
During the next 20 years, Sunrise intends to build a slew of alternative water projects, costing up to $175 million, to keep pace with population growth.
Precisely what type of new water plants Sunrise should build will be laid out by a consultant in a $1.4 million yearlong study beginning this month. The cost of tapping new water sources will be shouldered in part by residents in the form of higher utility bills, many officials say.
Sunrise's quandary is symptomatic of a growing push to find alternative water supplies in Broward County. Last February, the South Florida Water Management District, which covers Palm Beach and Broward counties and all or part of 14 others, capped water consumption from the Biscayne aquifer, an underground reservoir that provides most of South Florida's drinking water.
"South Florida residents should expect their utility bills to climb 30 to 50 percent in the next five years as more cities look for ways to build alternative water supplies," said Phillip Gildan, an attorney who represents various utilities, including Sunrise. District water officials this summer told developers of The Commons in Davie and Harrison Park in Sunrise that no building permits would be issued until the city agrees to build at least two alternative water supply plants.