Water rations to test
Strictest regulations ever likely imposed this week
The South Florida Water Management District likely will propose Phase III restrictions to its governing board in
Such restrictions have been imposed on the state's east coast, but never here, officials say.
With perilously low water levels in
But the prospect of brown grass, withered crops, low water pressure and unrelenting brush fires has many concerned. Some municipalities will be asking for exceptions, while others, like
It's not clear where the SFWMD might bend, but spokeswoman Susan Sanders said adjustments are likely.
"Although we truly won't know until the board meets, I really doubt the order will be imposed verbatim the way it's written," she said. "It will probably be some combination of modifications, just like when we went into Phase II restrictions."
Since April, when required restrictions went into effect, there have been a reported 1,375 watering citations issued in the county and 1,290 warnings. Each city sets its own schedule of fines, ranging from $25 to $500 for residential and $500 to $10,000 for commercial.
Mike Titmus, chief code enforcement manager in
"We'll try to take it easy on people the first week or
so," he said. "We're not looking to jam people up financially. Most
people want to do what is expected of them, and it's really the repeat
offenders we're after."
"I have to admit, I watch The Weather Channel, and I do
understand the state is in a drought situation," she said. "But to go
to one day a week is just crazy. It's going to get pretty brown out here."
"It's going to be tough," she said. "But I know we're in a water shortage, so we have to do something."
Even though her grass is getting brown,
"Grass always gets green again in the summer," she said.
The risk of fire is what worries Hank Graham, spokesman for the Florida Division of Forestry. He said the arid weather creates prime fire conditions, and he fears further restrictions will worsen the situation.
"In theory, when you have green lawns, that
acts as a fire break," Graham said. "If we go into Phase III,
we're going to see a lot of landscape plants start to die out, which will most
definitely add to the already bad fire conditions."
While it's wise to create Florida-friendly landscapes, which consist of native shrubs that are more likely to live through dry conditions, Graham said people shouldn't try to plant anything new at this point in the season. The best move for residents now is to check for dead or dying plants and remove them.
Craig Aberbach, division chief with the Cape Coral Fire Department, said Phase III shouldn't have significant impact on firefighting capabilities because his department, like several in the county, transports canal water with tanker trucks.
"Typically, when we're fighting fires in wooded areas, we use different tactics, so we won't need to access the hydrants," he said. "Even with structure fires, low water pressure shouldn't be an issue because we can just pull up to a canal and get water from there."
But low pressure problems are a concern for many of the area's
utility companies. Patricia DiPiero, spokeswoman for
Lee County Utilities, said her department agrees with the spirit of the restrictions,
but wants to make sure the SFWMD staggers the days so everyone won't water on
the same day.
"Our system was designed to run a certain way," she said. "If you force it all on the same day, it's going to make it very difficult in terms of pressure."
But Sanders said that's been a common misunderstanding.
"I don't know the exact days they're going to use, but it's probably still going to be odd- and even-numbered addresses like it is now," she said. "I think that's some of the confusion. People are thinking if we go to Phase III, everyone will have to water on the same day. That's not the case."
George Reilly, utilities director for Cape Coral, said council will vote Monday to ask the district for a complete exemption because of its reuse system for irrigation, which produces 70 to 80 million gallons a week and can only store so much at a time. Whatever isn't used will be flushed into the
"We've invested in this system as a proactive approach to water
conservation, and it doesn't affect the groundwater that the district is
concerned about," Reilly said. "We ought to be treated
Throughout the 16-county area the district covers, there were 827 variance applications for exceptions received since April. Of those, 521 were approved, 183 were denied, 118 were withdrawn and five are still in processing. Sanders said the district has been meeting with stakeholders since April in an attempt to open a dialogue and address concerns.
Regardless of what the governing board decides, utility customers
shouldn't expect a break on their bill for using less water. For example, the
$9.50 flat rate paid by customers in the
Business running dry
Some who are anticipating a substantially larger strain on their
wallets are those in agriculture.
Terrence McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture, said a recent study determined the drought alone could strike the industry with losses of as much as $100 million monthly and $1 billion over the next 12 months.
The golfing industry also is expected to take a hit. Because the
Phase III restrictions call for a 45 percent reduction of water use, Matt
Taylor, president of the Florida Golf Course Superintendents Association, said
courses will have to be picky about which areas will get the most water, with
tees and greens drinking up the most, and fairways soaking significantly less.
The courses that have reuse water available will see less damage, he said.
"I don't think it will affect business too much because people will still golf, but the economic impact will be the loss of turf and plants," he said. "A lot of that will have to be replanted in the spring. I think that's going to be a real issue down the road."
Golf is just one of the draws to the area. But as more people move
in, Sanders said fewer commercial watering permits and renewals are likely to
be issued. Also with population growth is the need for residents to realize
water use will have a greater impact on the total supply, she said.