Introduction Sinkholes are a common, naturally occurring geologic feature and one of the predominant landforms in Florida, where they pose hazards to property and the environment. Although many new sinkholes develop naturally, in west-central Florida and elsewhere, their increasing frequency corresponds to the accelerated development of ground-water and land resources. Usually little more than a nuisance, new sinkholes can sometimes cause substantial property damage and structural problems for buildings and roads. Sinkholes also threaten water and environmental resources by draining streams, lakes, and wetlands, and creating pathways for transmitting surface waters directly into underlying aquifers. Where these pathways are developed, movement of surface contaminants into the underlying aquifer systems can persistently degrade ground-water resources. In some areas, sinkholes are used as storm drains, and because they are a direct link with the underlying aquifer systems it is important that their drainage areas be kept free of contaminants. Conversely, when sinkholes become plugged, they can cause flooding by capturing surface-water flow and can create new wetlands, ponds, and lakes.
Most of Florida is prone to sinkhole formation because it is underlain by thick carbonate deposits that are susceptible to dissolution by circulating ground water. Florida's principal source of freshwater, ground water, moves into and out of storage in the carbonate aquifers - some of the most productive in the nation. Development of these ground-water resources for municipal, industrial and agricultural water supplies creates regional ground-water-level declines that play a role in accelerating sinkhole formation, thereby increasing susceptibility of the aquifers to contamination from surface-water drainage. Such interactions between surface-water and ground-water resources in Florida play a critical and complex role in the long-term management of water resources and ecosystems of Florida's wetlands.