June 24, 2008

Water Restrictions May Be Extended

By Nicholas Azzara, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.

Jun. 24--Regional water authorities today are expected to extend irrigation restrictions through the rainy season.

Once-a-week lawn irrigation requirements in place since January 2007 are likely to be extended through Sept. 30, pending a vote today by the Southwest Florida Water Management District's governing board. SWFWMD's staff will recommend the board do just that following a particularly dry April and May.

Current restrictions were set to expire June 30. But lower-than-normal lake, river and groundwater levels are still cause for concern.

"Looking back to January of '06, we've accumulated quite a rainfall deficit," said SWFWMD spokeswoman Robyn Felix. "We still have about a 17.5-inch rainfall deficit districtwide. Lakes are one to five inches below normal right now."

Most of the 16-county district is considered abnormally dry or in a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

All indications are that the governing board will adopt the extended restrictions, according to SWFWMD board member Pat Glass, a former Manatee County commis- sioner. She has pushed for permanent once-a-week restrictions.

"I think that people may be beginning to realize that more sensible lawn care, irrigation water use really pays off in the long run," Glass said. "Conservation is the strongest thing people can do to sustain our water resources and maintain the quality of the water."

The region relies on the rainy season -- June through September -- to account for 60 percent of the year's water supply. So far this month, Manatee County has received 6.78 inches of rain. The June average is 7.68 inches. And while authorities are glad the rainy season is on pace to deliver a normal amount of rain, much more is needed.

"We need above average rainfall for an extended period of time," Felix said. "Average is not going to help us completely rebound. We need a lot of it."

SWFWMD has also urged homeowners to skip a week of irrigation during cool months when lawns don't need regular irrigation. Lawns usually need even less irrigation during the summer if afternoon showers are a regular occurrence.

"Now that we are in the traditional rainy season, this is the time to stop watering," Felix said.

Local and regional water authorities seem to agree that the conservation message is working, because the water demand this summer isn't as high as it has been in years past. All the same, a newly certified irrigation enforcement officer is patrolling Manatee neighborhoods spreading the word to continue restrained irrigation schedules.

Nicholas Azzara, county reporter, can be reached at 745-7081.


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