Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Homeowners sympathize with farmers, but need help

Joe Curd, who hasn’t had any problems with his well in the past 15 years, stands next to his now-dry well in Plant City.


Joe Curd, who hasn’t had any problems with his well in the past 15 years, stands next to his now-dry well in Plant City.

PLANT CITY — The people of Plant City are polite. They sprinkle their sentences with "ma'am" and "sir." They help their neighbors in times of need, and they cheerfully engage strangers on the phone.

This week, some residents tried to extend their cordiality to nearby farmers, who sprayed millions of gallons of water on their plants to protect them during the cold snap, causing a dramatic 60-foot drop in the aquifer that triggered sinkholes and caused wells to go dry.

But knowing they could be on the hook for thousands of dollars in repairs, some homeowners have found it hard not to be upset with farmers. About 600 people have reported problems with their wells, and repairs could run up to $6,000 per well, said Southwest Florida Water Management District spokeswoman Robyn Felix.

On Friday, people without water trickled into local fire stations to pick up free bottled water, which became available after the county decided Thursday to declare a state of emergency.

Many residents had been buying bottled water for days, including Plant City homeowner Leni Curd, 43, whose well dried up Tuesday. She's been using bottled water to flush the toilet and cook. She showers at her son's house.

"I understand the berry farmers, and by no means with this current economy do I want someone to lose their livelihood," she said. "But we're going to have to dip into our savings."

That money was meant for her family's security and for medical expenses, she said — not lowering the pipes in her well.

Still, she sympathizes with farmers. Only one thing makes her mad:

A friend told her she knows of a strawberry farmer who didn't monitor the temperatures on cold nights to make sure he used his sprinklers only when absolutely necessary. He just turned them on each night, regardless, Curd said.

"That makes me furious," she said.

Plant City strawberry farmer Carl Grooms said he doesn't know of any farmers who would just turn on their sprinklers and go to bed.

"We're out there monitoring to make sure there's no unnecessary loss of water," he said.

Also, farmers have to monitor their fields to make sure irrigation equipment doesn't malfunction, he said. A broken engine or pipe would stop an even water flow, and large portions of their valuable crop could be lost.

He asked for neighboring residents to be understanding.

"This is a record phenomenon that just occurred," he said. "It doesn't happen every year. Bear with us. … We're just trying to protect our crops, and this is the best means we know of."

Some residents experiencing problems with their wells may be reimbursed by farmers, but only if their home predates the farmer's field, Felix said.

Cynthia Williamson, 56, said she hopes she qualifies. Her well has been dry since Sunday morning. She and her husband have gone through dozens of gallons of Publix drinking water.

"It couldn't have come at a worse time," she said. "If we have to drop our well down, that will cost us money right after Christmas, and money was tight already."

The Powells already know they'll have to pay for their problems.

Their homeowners insurance doesn't cover repairs on the sinkhole they discovered near their driveway Tuesday night, and farmers aren't required to reimburse people for sinkholes.

Betty Powell, 73, said the ground fell another foot after the first night. The hole is now 5 feet deep. Her husband, Rufus Powell, 81, goes outside to check on it every couple of hours.

Still, they don't worry.

"I put it in the Lord's hands," Betty Powell said. "I said, 'God, you know what the situation is, and you're the only one who can take care of it.' I mean, it could have done swallowed this entire house."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.

Homeowners sympathize with farmers, but need help 01/15/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2010 1:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bob Buckhorn, a mayor who knows what he wants, surveys constituents on what they want


    TAMPA — Focus has not been a problem — or really, even a question — during the six-plus years that Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been in office.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn keeps a digital countdown clock in his office showing the days, hours. minutes and seconds until he is term-limited out of office on April 1, 2019. As of Wednesday, he had 584 days to go. [City of Tampa]
  2. WATCH: Heroic Hooters manager helps two sheriff's deputies subdue unruly customer


    BRANDON — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office praised a heroic Hooters Restaurant manager Wednesday for coming to the aid of two deputies struggling to subdue an unruly customer.

    It took two deputies and a Hooter's manager to get control of Ashton B. Toney after he threatened to kill an employee who refused to serve him alcohol at a Hooter's in Brandon, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported.
[Booking photo from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Editorial: Turn the heat up on AC problem in Hillsborough schools


    Hillsborough County School District students do not want to hear that their buildings are decrepit. They do not want to hear that Florida's legislators are complicit. All they want to hear is the sweet sound of a classroom air conditioner kicking in at full power. Anything less creates uncomfortably hot classrooms and …

    Superintendent Jeff Eakins and the current Hillsborough County School Board did not create this air conditioning mess, but they own it now.
  4. Man in bunny mask part of trio that breaks into Odessa McDonald's to haul away ATM


    ODESSA — A man in a bunny mask and two also-masked accomplices broke into a McDonald's early Wednesday, hoisted an automatic teller machine into a stolen minivan, then dumped the ATM and the van into a pond, deputies say.

    Three masked men, including one in a bunny mask, broke into an Odessa McDonald's early Wednesday and stole the ATM.
 [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Plan your weekend Aug. 25-27: Craig Morgan, Wearable Art 13, SNL's Pete Davidson, Rodeo Fest


    Plan your weekend


    Pete Davidson: Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson will headline this year's University of South Florida Round-Up Comedy Show, a back-to-school tradition at USF. Expect to hear about his recent trip to rehab, since he's known for his confessional …

    The 12th annual Wearable art Fashion Show was held at the Dunedin Fine Art Center on Saturday evening, August 27, 2016.
DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times