South Florida Water Restrictions
May be Made Permanent
CURTIS MORGAN / Miami Herald 16may2008
Water managers on Thursday moved toward permanently imposing the twice-weekly irrigation restrictions on homeowners now in place across South Florida.
The South Florida Water Management District won't consider formal proposals until next month, but members of the nine-member governing board agreed that implementing year-round conservation was a critical step to address regional shortages that won't disappear any time soon.
LOWEST IN MONTHS
It has been almost bone-dry since the board eased once-weekly limits a month ago following three straight wetter-than-normal months. The result is that Lake Okeechobee, the heart of South Florida's water supply and a backup source for East Coast cities, this week dropped below 10 feet above sea level.
That is its lowest point since October and with windy, dry weather forecast for at least a week, the lake is likely to continue falling until regular seasonal rains arrive.
The National Weather Service predicts the wet season, which supplies most of South Florida's rainfall, will begin in the last week of May.
The big lake sits about 3 ½ feet below its historical average for this time of year, though a half-foot above last year's record daily lows.
The proposed year-round restrictions, still being tweaked, would retain the current watering days for most households across a district that stretches from Orlando to Key West: Thursday and Sunday for even addresses and Wednesday and Saturday for odd.
The hours would change slightly, with sprinkling prohibited from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
INCENTIVE TO RECYCLE
But the rules will be a lot more lenient, and more complicated, for utilities and communities that recycle treated wastewater for irrigation. Depending on the amount of recycled water used, residents may get three to seven days a week to water.
Board member Charles Dauray urged keeping the rules consistent.
"If you tweak this too much and you get too many variables, you're going to confuse the people," he said.
"People want to be part of the solution. They won't be part of the solution if we keep changing the rules," he added.
But utilities, which have complained of lost revenues from the restrictions and billions in future expenses to meet state demands to recycle wastewater and phase out ocean dumping, urged the board to allow unrestricted use of treated wastewater for irrigation.
If not, they would be forced to dispose of an increasingly expensive product by pumping it into deep underground wells.
Board members agreed that the restrictions on such "alternative sources" should be relaxed to provide an incentive for cities and counties to invest in re-use systems.
"Rather than pump it into the ground, I'd rather see it on a lawn," said board member Melissa Meeker.
The board expects to consider the formal year-round measures at its next meeting on June 12.
If they are approved, they could go into effect by the fall.