SAN ANTONIO — The landscaping is lush, with one house sporting 10 trees in the front yard. Another has greenery lining its circular driveway. Only a few brown spots dot some lawns.
Welcome to Americana Avenue, home to one of the highest concentrations of heavy water users in Pasco County.
Of the 53 homes along this Lake Jovita street, 42 reported average uses of more than 15,000 gallons a month. That's the figure the Southwest Florida Management District uses to define water hogs. In Pasco, the typical household used an average of 6,740 gallons a month last year.
Americana Avenue homeowner Frank Jagisch, who averaged 17,000 gallons a month last year, was surprised to learn he was on the list of heavy users.
"We do everything we can" to conserve water, said Jagisch. "When we wash dishes, we turn off the water between rinses."
His house sits on two-thirds of an acre, the typical lot size on that street. That's part of the problem, said Chris Dewey, program coordinator for the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program, part of the Pasco County Cooperative Extension.
"They made the lots big," said Dewey, who installed in-ground rain sensors at homes in the gated golf-course community. He said the homes, which are required to have thirsty St. Augustine sod, can use more than 37,000 gallons a month during the dry season even with responsible water use.
The folks on Americana Avenue have plenty of company across the county.
Pasco County Utilities' list of customers averaging more than 15,000 gallons a month includes 8,585 homes. Some of the highest users are model homes with verdant lawns to entice buyers.
The highest use among an actual homeowner was professional wrestler John Cena, who averaged 207,000 gallons a month last year at his Land O'Lakes mansion.
By contrast, the No. 2 user averaged 82,000 gallons.
Jerry Flatt, a Land O'Lakes resident who averaged 65,000 gallons a month, said his water bills had suddenly gone up despite his habits remaining the same. He said he'd call the utilities department but hadn't found the time.
"Your call has prompted me to do that," he told a Times reporter.
The county's list also contains several prominent residents, including School Board member Kathryn Starkey, who recently resigned from the Pinellas-Anclote Basin Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the agency that has been urging greater conservation and tougher watering restrictions.
According to county records, Starkey's New Port Richey home used an average of 39,000 gallons a month, or a total of 398,000 gallons in 2008.
Starkey was stunned. "We don't even run our sprinklers six months out of the year," she said.
Starkey, whose family is known for their environmental stewardship, said her 3 1/2-acre property has Florida friendly landscaping, and only 1 acre is irrigated.
"We're very water conscious," she said. Her husband, Trey, wonders if they might have had a leak or a meter error. They plan to call Pasco Utilities to investigate.
Also on the list: Former schools superintendent Tom Weightman and his wife, former School Board member Jean Weightman. Their Lake Jovita home averaged 17,000 gallons a month.
"Tom is very conservative" with the lawn maintenance, Jean Weightman said, adding that he hand waters areas that appear to be the most "burnt up."
Still, "It's not a list we want to be on," she said, and they'll look for other ways to conserve.
Circuit Judge Stanley Mills also made the list, averaging 39,000 gallons a month last year at his New Port Richey home. He did not return a message left last week at his office.
Use more, pay more
Residents can get cited for watering their lawns on the wrong day or at the wrong time. But there is no penalty for using too much water.
Heavy users do pay more: Pasco County Utilities has a tiered rate system, starting at $2.30 per thousand for the first 6,000 gallons of water used, then steadily increasing and topping out at $4.72 per thousand above 15,000 gallons.
As the drought intensified, the county sent letters to the heaviest users with tips on conservation — but nowhere did the letter alert the recipient that he or she was consuming so much. Letters also were sent to customers whose use suddenly spiked, urging them to check for leaks.
Swiftmud has asked the member governments of Tampa Bay Water, including Pasco County, to institute a drought surcharge for heavy users. Swiftmud executive director Dave Moore plans to make his case Tuesday before the County Commission.
"We've considered it," said Jeff Harris, Pasco County's environmental biologist. "But it's a difficult thing to manage."
One obstacle is the number of private utilities. The county wouldn't have the authority to dictate rates to them.
"Would it be fair for one person to pay that (surcharge) and the person across the street not to because they're served by Mad Hatter Utilities?" Harris said.
Harris said a drought surcharge would be more fair if it applied to all users and was served by all utilities.
"We think everybody is impacted by the drought," he said.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.