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Water managers impose more stringent irrigation restrictions in South Florida

« Previous Page03/23/2011


Tuesday was the kind of day that most South Floridians desire. It was hot, sunny and a little breezy.

The only problem, said Susan Sylvester, the South Florida Water Management District's director of operations control, is days like that aren't helping the worsening water shortage in South Florida.

"We're on the peak of a roller coaster," she said.

Following last week's call to residents urging them to limit water usage in response to what is the driest dry season in 80 years, officials Tuesday announced stricter mandatory restrictions for residents in the 16-county water district.

The new restrictions, effective on Saturday, include a two-day-a-week residential lawn watering schedule. While most other counties in the water district already follow this schedule voluntarily, Palm Beach County has permitted watering three days a week.

Water managers ordered that residents and businesses with an odd-numbered street address are to water landscapes on Wednesdays and Saturdays before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Those with an even-numbered address, or no street address, are to water their lawns Thursdays and Sundays during the same times.

Farms and nurseries that use water from Lake Okeechobee must cut back water usage by 15 percent, as well golf courses in 11 counties, including Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Lake Okeechobee is now at 11.76 feet, more than two feet below the historical average for this time of year. From October through February, a total of 5.69 inches of rain has fallen in the district, less than half the average rainfall. Eastern Palm Beach County received only 32 percent of its average rainfall.

Watering restrictions have been ordered before because of inadequate rainfall. In 2009, the district limited watering to two days a week and, in 2007, only one day a week.

Coalition of Boynton West Residential Communities President Ken Lassiter said he isn't bothered by limiting watering to two days a week.

"I was just over in Naples last weekend and they've had the two-day watering for a long time," he said. He said the lawns there appeared to "be fine" and thinks the restrictions "may be a good thing."

An order was put into effect last week directed at users such as farmers, improvement districts and water suppliers to reduce by 15 percent the amount of water taken from the L-8 canal. Under the new restrictions, all such users would have to abide by the 15 percent reduction.

Tom Perryman, manager of sweet corn and radish crops at Hundley Farms Inc. in Belle Glade, said he has been expecting tighter watering restrictions.

"We're in a severe drought and a lot of our crops are suffering from it," he said. "We've been raising water levels as high as we can."

Wire worms and salt worms already are attacking sugar cane, he said. Higher water levels suppress those types of pests.

"We just have to be smart about where we are watering and make sure we use our water wisely," he said. "We have been pretty good in the past."

While water levels decrease, the number of brush fires have increased to almost double the number this year compared last year. Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Don DeLucia said putting out brush fires is always difficult, but now rescue workers are having trouble finding sources of water.

Fire Rescue has responded to at least one brush fire and as many as four a day during the current dry season. He said the fires can be accidentally caused by things like a discarded cigarette butt or camp fire embers, but many have been set maliciously.

In December, 19 people were arrested for starting brush fires and on Monday four teenagers in Wellington were arrested after they set off a brush fire while playing with fireworks.

Officials hope the start of the rainy season in June will make a big difference.

"It's a positive thing to consider. If we happen to get lucky here and there with some rainfall we'll be OK," said Pete Kwiatkowski, water district's water shortage incident commander. But added, "we need to be prepared to consider more intense restrictions."

Courtesy Of The Palm Beach Post.