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Return to twice-a-week watering limit isn't the solution

If a plant can't survive without being watered more than once a week, then don't plant it.

That would seem to be a good, common-sense rule in a drought-prone state with disappearing rivers and lakes. Instead, Hernando County commissioners are considering this idea: a return to twice-a-week watering.

They will discuss it at their May 10 meeting at the request of Commissioner David Russell, who on Tuesday said he's heard from residents struggling to restore the health of their yards after hard freezes the past two winters.

I might also suggest another rule: Don't plant a yard that can't survive a hard freeze, because the common grass variety most likely to die from frost, Floratam, is also the most likely to die from thirst.

But since the commission seemed determined to take on this very limited problem, it should consider, at most, a very limited solution: returning to twice-a-week watering for a brief spring recovery period.

Russell said that's what he has in mind, which is good. And while we're handing out kudos, we ought to thank most of the commissioners for refusing to cooperate with Clerk of Circuit Court Karen Nicolai's plans for private budget meetings. This seems to have killed the idea. Three cheers!

Okay, enough praise, because even a temporary return to twice-a-week watering is unnecessary and confusing. Residents are already allowed to water grass every day for 60 days after planting. True, if they put in a few plugs, they can't water their entire yard for 60 days. But they can hand-water the patches they're trying to resuscitate or target them with a sprinkler head or two.

They will live, these complainers, and so will their lawns.

And if their grass doesn't perk up to their satisfaction? At the risk of sounding unsympathetic to people trying keep their yards looking presentable in trying times, well, tough.

Because Floratam is a gateway grass that leads to a life of environmental crime. I interviewed more than a dozen homeowners after an even harder winter last year. Many of them were replacing frozen-out Floratam with more drought- and cold-tolerant Bahia, suggesting that most voters aren't as attached to their delicate lawns, and therefore twice-a-week watering, as commissioners think.

More relevant to this discussion, almost all of the residents with Floratam said they hired companies to regularly spray it with chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Cumulatively, this is environmental poison. If you need proof, head to the Weeki Wachee River, which is choked with drab-green algae directly linked to yard and golf course fertilizer seeping into the aquifer.

The river's flow has also dropped nearly 10 percent over the years, which is due mostly to too much pumping. The proof that the damage can be reduced by once-a-week pumping is also perfectly clear — as clear as the Weeki Wachee used to be. Before the Southwest Florida Water Management District imposed once-a-week watering in 2007, county utility customers used an average of 185 gallons per day. Partly because the commission had the courage to stick with the once-a-week rule last year, this figure is now 144 gallons per day — plenty, in other words, for any plant that belongs here.

Return to twice-a-week watering limit isn't the solution 04/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 9:20pm]

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