It is ironic that the calls to lift watering restrictions seem to get louder during the rainy summer season, but that’s exactly what happens.
This time of year county commissioners receive emails from residents of Citrus Hills, Pine Ridge, Sugarmill Woods and the like asking the county to lift the once-weekly watering restriction for their lawns.
Folks can’t understand why, a year after a record rainfall summer filled the aquifer, there are watering restrictions at all.
The answer: It’s complicated.
Citrus County utility customers get their water from the Charles A. Black wellfield near Meadowcrest. The county has a permit with Swiftmud — Southwest Florida Water Management District — to pump an average daily amount.
If the county exceeds that amount on a regular basis without rolling it back, it faces Swiftmud fines. The county would rather folks save water on their own; it has an entire page on its website explaining water conservation.
County workers monitor water use and determine irrigation is the culprit. Ken Cheek, the brilliant director of water resources, noted in a recent email regarding Terra Vista:
“April 2022 total withdrawals for the Charles A Black Water Supply System were the second highest for the month of April in the last ten years. So, even with the one day per week watering schedule, we have been pumping more than our permit allotment for several months and came near to our record pumpage for this April.”
And while the county and Swiftmud are processing a new permit that will allow more water use, residents should know those permits are based on 20-year growth projections.
“So, even if the permit is issued at the higher withdrawal rate, it would not necessarily allow us, as a community, to increase our landscape irrigation quantities,” he wrote.
That conversation usually us moves into, “If there isn’t enough water for my lawn, why does Swiftmud keep approving huge pumpage permits for mega developments?”
Logic certainly dictates we shouldn’t be approving new big water withdrawal permits if there’s not enough groundwater to keep my grass green.
But, in a bigger scheme, it doesn’t work that way. That’s an age-old Florida argument: I’m here, now close the door to others. Don’t people in these newer developments realize how ridiculous that sounds when they complain about Swiftmud approving water permits? How do they think their house has water?
Then we have others not on a county or city water system who say they shouldn’t be held to once-a-week because they’re on a well or have an irrigation well.
County commissioners talked about that last summer and the feeling was it’s best not to split the once-a-week watering rule. How would a code officer who sees a sprinkler supposed to know if it’s county water or from a well?
Commissioner Holly Davis constantly urges residents to plant Florida-friendly landscaping.
“It’s quite lovely, is less expensive to maintain, and fits in with our Nature Coast heritage,” she wrote in an email to a resident.
It’s difficult for people whose concerns far outweigh their green lawn to feel any empathy for those fighting water restrictions. With all that this county is facing — growth, roads, affordable housing, how to pay for everything — it seems lawn watering would be low on the priority list.
But if I just paid $300,000 for a house and my HOA requires a green plush lawn, it’s a very big deal.
Watering rules are among those Citrus County issues that crop up this time of year. Each time commissioners discuss it, they talk tough about Swiftmud and challenging the permit, but that never goes anywhere. I wouldn’t expect it to move the needle now, either.
Who knows? I’ve been wrong before. Some say I’m all wet.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.