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Watershed idea: Switch to Bahia lawns

The subject of this column is what I call a toothpick issue, as in you might need a couple to prop your eyes open; it's that boring.

But I suggest you do so; it's that important.

Ready? I want to talk about minimum flows and levels, a bit of government jargon that describes the state's main tool for protecting our rivers and lakes.

These are standards that identify the smallest amount of water needed to sustain the health of freshwater bodies of water.

And, because rivers and lakes in Florida depend either directly or indirectly on groundwater, water management districts are supposed to limit further pumping once the unwanted minimums are reached.

All this was set up by state law in 1972. So, yes, it's taken awhile, but districts are finally getting around to establishing minimum flows and levels around the state, including for the crown jewel of Hernando waterways, the Weeki Wachee River.

Though the report that supports this standard is still in draft form, the numbers are stunning:

The Weeki Wachee can only withstand a 10 percent drop in its historic average flow, the study found.

Because of pumping from the aquifer that feeds the spring-fed river, it's now down by 9 percent.

That means a further decline will cause widespread harm to all creatures that need a robust flow of fresh water, including shellfish that serve as a major food source for larger fish.

It also means the county will probably never be allowed to pump more groundwater in southwestern Hernando than it is right now.

"We're basically maxed out,'' said Joe Stapf, the Hernando utilities director.

So, in coming years, the county will be forced to look for alternative water sources, he said. Some, including a well field in northern Hernando, are feasible but limited. Others are environmentally reprehensible (pumping from the Withlacoochee River) or hideously expensive (desalination).

I have a better idea. Let's just use less water.

Stapf bragged that his customers' daily per capita consumption dropped from 184 gallons in 2006 to 168 last year.

Big deal.

That comes to more than three 55 gallon drums full of water per day, which I think we can agree is an obscene amount.

Roughly roughly half of this water goes for irrigation, which means our pursuit of eternally green lawns has brought the Weeki Wachee to the brink of serious damage.

Stop. Please. When your St. Augustine grass dies (as it always, eventually seems to do) replace it with Bahia grass, and never water it.

That's right. Never. Save your irrigating for flower beds and vegetable gardens, and let your lawn go brown during our dry winter, just as Northern lawns go dormant in the cold.

The County Commission should do its part, as it almost did earlier this year, and ban St. Augustine for yards of new homes. Extreme? I don't think so, now that we know the health of the Weeki Wachee is at stake.

If you managed to get this far, thank you. You may now remove your toothpicks.

If you started to drift off about halfway down, try safety pins; it's that important.

Watershed idea: Switch to Bahia lawns 08/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 2:24pm]
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