Lawn watering rule expands to Gainesville today


Published: Wednesday, March 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 28, 2006 at 10:33 p.m.

Facts

About the water rule

  • The St. Johns River Water Management District limits lawn watering to two days a week before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., with some exceptions.
  • The district covers an eastern part of Alachua County, including Gainesville, and all of Clay and Putnam counties.
  • Residents pick the days of the week. Permits can be obtained to allow additional watering.

  • All's quiet in Alachua County for Jimmy Meeks, a water cop whose attention has been focused on water-hogging scofflaws to the south.
    But that could soon change. Starting today, a rule limiting lawn watering to two days a week expands to Gainesville and the rest of the St. Johns River Water Management District.
    As water resource representative for the district, Meeks responds to complaints about violations. While those complaints have poured in from Marion County since the rule came into effect there in 2001, he expects a public-awareness campaign will mean less problems in Gainesville.
    "We're going to have to educate people," he said.
    The two-day rule applies to homes and businesses in the district, which includes an eastern section of Alachua County and all of Clay and Putnam counties. Residents can pick their own watering days, unless their local government designates specific ones.
    The rule also allows local government and utilities to monitor lawn watering and issue fines. But Gainesville Regional Utilities has decided to stick with public awareness, which officials believe will be more effective.
    "Everybody hopes once the word gets out people will change their behavior," said Brett Goodman, supervising utility engineer.
    The rule comes on top of existing restrictions forbidding watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The district made a total of 22 site visits in Alachua County for complaints over that rule from 2001 to 2005. No warnings were issued.
    In comparison, there were more than 800 visits and 95 warnings in Marion County over the stricter rules in that time. The vast majority happened in the especially dry 2001-02 period.
    Marion County is one of a handful of counties already under the two-day rule. The district considers those counties water caution areas, meaning they could face water shortages by 2025 and must develop alternative sources.
    While Alachua County's supply is believed to be secure through that period, GRU officials have implemented measures to encourage conservation. One is the utility's three-tiered system for water usage, which boosts rates for customers who use more than 9,000 gallons of water a month.
    The average customer used 86 gallons a day in 2005, a figure that has dropped from more than 100 gallons in 2000. GRU officials credit the tiered system in part with the reduction, though they say weather patterns are the biggest factor affecting water usage.
    Weather is part of the reason the two-day rule could prove controversial in its early months. Forecasters predict La Nia, the cold water effect in the Pacific Ocean that is the opposite of El Nio, could cause an especially dry spring.
    That could lead people to turn on the sprinklers to save their lawns. Resodding a front lawn can cost $1,500 or more, he said, so homeowners will likely ignore the rule if they think they won't get caught.
    "If the speed limit is 70 miles an hour and there is no enforcement, people are going to drive 85," he said.
    But lawn-care experts say most Florida lawns get too much water, actually harming rather than helping them. About half of all residential water use is for irrigating lawns and landscape and about half of that water is unnecessary, said Michael Dukes, an agricultural engineering professor at the University of Florida.
    Research shows St. Augustine grass - the most common grass in the state's lawns - can go three to four days without being watered, said Laurie Trenholm, assistant professor of environmental horticulture/turfgrass at UF. Watering more causes grass to have shallow roots and die more easily, she said.
    "Folks that are irrigating more frequently are generally going to have less healthy lawns," she said.
    But Nick West, owner of Gainesville landscaping company, said that may be hard to convince a public that associates watering with lush lawns.
    "Everyone likes to have their green grass," he said.
    Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 338-3176 or crabben@ gvillesun.com.

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