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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Watering restrictions change with season, weather

Q: Why is it we can water twice a week now instead of once a week? We still get rain on a rather regular basis. People where I live water all the time, three to seven times a week and twice a day on most zones, some of them run for an hour! So, why confuse folks and change the restrictions? We need more enforcement!

Answer: I contacted the Southwest Florida Water Management District and received the following information:

Not all communities are currently allowed to water twice per week; changes in watering restrictions are more complicated than one would think, and the involvement of concerned citizens in restriction enforcement is very important.

Although the district sets the basic standards for the region, it can authorize cities, counties and even specific developments to have different or more stringent local restrictions. This is why it is important to check with your local water utility and community development district or homeowners association before changing your irrigation controller when you hear about a restriction change.

The district is required, by state law, to have a water shortage plan for use in responding to drought and other temporary water shortages. This plan specifies that certain drought indicators are monitored (12-month rainfall sum, 24-month rainfall sum, seven-day average river flows, eight-week average river flows and an index of ground water levels called the Aquifer Resource Indicator) and taken into consideration when making watering restriction decisions. These specific indicators were chosen to avoid frequent changes in restrictions (overreactions to temporary changes in water resource or water supply conditions that can result from a single weather event), so sometimes a specific level of restrictions remains in effect longer than some people might think is necessary.

The plan, to comply with direction given to the district by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, also specifies that additional factors (many of them harder to quantify or with unique characteristics for each water shortage event) also are taken into consideration. The district’s governing board (a body of volunteers appointed by Florida’s governor) is responsible for deciding whether the district will allow people to follow its normal twice-per-week lawn-watering schedule or a water shortage order that can impose different watering days, watering times and other requirements.

State law requires the district’s board to have a public hearing before making nonemergency decisions, and it generally meets once per month, which limits how quickly it can respond when conditions change.

At its Feb. 25 meeting, the board determined that the district’s “Phase II” order (out of four levels of response in the plan) was still appropriate. In recognition of the fact that lawns may need more water when actively growing in the seasons with longer days and hotter weather, however, Phase II includes an automatic change in the maximum allowable watering schedule (once-per-week watering during the winter months, twice-per-week watering otherwise), so this is the change that occurred March 1.

Just because you are now allowed to water twice a week doesn’t mean you always need to water that frequently. If there is a rain event providing a half to three-quarters of an inch of water, you can usually skip an irrigation application. Use a rain gauge to determine the amount of rainfall you have received and empty it after each water event.

Make sure your irrigation controller’s rain shut-off device or soil moisture sensor is functioning properly (not only to save water, but because it is the law). For information on how to do this, contact your local county UF/IFAS Extension office or see the University of Florida publication “Residential Irrigation System Rainfall Shutoff Devices” by Michael D. Dukes and Dorota Z. Haman at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ae221.

Regarding water restriction enforcement, there are ordinances (local laws) that specify details of how enforcement is usually conducted and how much a violation citation will cost. Enforcement is generally done by water utility or code enforcement employees who also have other duties, so violation reports from the general public are very helpful in focusing local efforts. If you want to report a possible violation, the district has a toll-free telephone number you can call anonymously (1-800-848-0499), or you can report a violation online (www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/restrictions and click the “Go to form” button) or contact the local enforcement agency directly. Tickets aren’t issued on the basis of an anonymous telephone call or online report, but such reports lead to investigation by city/county staff.

During severe water shortage events, the district requires more stringent enforcement of restrictions; however, during near-normal conditions, the district and its local enforcement partners rely on lower-cost education and warnings more than issuing citations.

Lynn Barber is the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods agent at Hillsborough Extension.. Reach her at [email protected]

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