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Swiftmud retreats from sod ban

When to water

Revised rules passed Tuesday by the Southwest Florida Water Management District apply to newly sodded yards and new construction. The once-a-week watering rule for established lawns remains unchanged. All new sod can be watered daily for the first two weeks. Watering must then be cut back to every other day for the following two weeks. Unless otherwise specified by city or county ordinance, new or replacement lawns at even-numbered addresses may water on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Odd-numbered addresses may water on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

They could have gone in like an angry mob. Crippled by a ban on residential resodding, local landscape businesses had plenty of grounds to complain.

Instead, business owners drew a deep breath before a summit last week with the Southwest Florida Water Management District. And instead of railing about their bottom line, they suggested a different formula to allocate scarce water.

"We tried to work with them,'' said Frank Favata, co-owner of Jimmy's Sod in Tampa. "It was a very good meeting.''

As a result, the water district's board ruled Tuesday that homeowners no longer must wait until summer to resod their lawns.

"Thank God,'' said sod installer Michael Wilkins, who operates Complete Lawn and Garden Specialist in Holiday and St. Petersburg. Like a lot of small-business owners, he had to lay off workers this past year. "I'm pretty much hustling my tree work just to make my truck payments and pay all my other bills,'' he said. The sod ban "took me out."

The ban was limited to Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, where the water supply is abnormally low because of inadequate rain.

The Hillsborough River reservoir, Tampa's main water supply, is near record lows for this time of year. The Alafia River is so low that it is providing very little water to meet public supply needs.

Anticipating below-normal rains through early 2009, the water district board announced the sod ban in late October and ordered local governments to fine violators without warning.

Landscape companies, already reeling from the collapse of the home building industry, responded angrily. Some said they depended on November jobs as homeowners prepared for guests.

One owner, Oscar Rodriguez of O.B. Sod, wrote to the mayor, the governor, and the sitting and incoming U.S. presidents.

As local government stepped up enforcement, the business owners organized. Dozens were at the meeting, which both sides called cordial and professional.

The business owners made the case that the water district had been overly generous in allowing daily lawn watering at new homes. Now, the rules are the same for new homes and replacement lawns.

Under the revised rules, new sod can be watered daily for the first two weeks. Watering must then taper off to every other day for the next two weeks. Unless otherwise specified by city or county ordinance, even-numbered addresses water on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Odd-numbered addresses water on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

"We got some water savings by doing that,'' said Robyn Felix, a water district spokeswoman.

Other rules — including one-day-a-week watering for established lawns and plants as well as shortened hours to run ornamental fountains — remain in effect.

Sod installers said they are eager to get some business .

"We can get a little bit of movement,'' Favata said. "Hopefully now homeowners will buy at least a pallet of grass. … And maybe we'll get some rain.''

Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5307.

Swiftmud retreats from sod ban 12/16/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 1:57pm]
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