DADE CITY — Officials have taken the first step toward lifting a decades-old ban on private irrigation wells within the city limits.
After a spirited debate Tuesday evening that touched on property owners' rights, water conservation goals and the safety of the city's water supply, Dade City commissioners voted 3-2 to initiate a repeal of the ban.
The proposal would come back for a public hearing on Oct. 27 before a final vote Nov. 10.
Commissioner Steve Van Gorden, who first pitched the idea in May 2008, said residents could save money in the long run by having their own irrigation wells instead of paying for city water.
"Our water rates are extremely high," Van Gorden said in an interview Wednesday.
"We do need to start thinking outside the box, if there are different ways we can lower costs for our residents and give them an opportunity to lower their expenditures," he said.
His pitch to lift the ban fell flat last year, but it gained support Tuesday evening from Commissioners Camille Hernandez and Eunice Penix.
Mayor Scott Black and Commissioner Curtis Beebe voted against lifting the ban.
Beebe's objections are threefold: If the city allows irrigation wells, he argues, water use will go up, city revenue will go down and the water supply becomes more vulnerable to contamination.
"We're in a pretty good water conservation position by not allowing irrigation wells," Beebe said in an interview Wednesday. "If private irrigation wells go in place, they won't be subject to our irrigation rates. Overall consumption would increase — this at a time when we're trying to manage and conserve our resources, (it) doesn't make sense."
"We have built our budget around the concept that we were going to be metering all the water in the city," Beebe added. "Doing away with that revenue source is going to force us to find other revenue or cut services."
Van Gorden asked the city staff to look at the density of wells permitted in similarly-sized cities and to see if there's ever been a case of a private well contaminating the local supply. He noted that there are backflow prevention mechanisms residents could use to avoid contaminating the aquifer.
Van Gorden also suggested a possible compromise: Allow only larger properties, perhaps an acre and up, to sink irrigation wells.
He noted that the cost of getting a well — often starting around $3,000 — would limit the number of people getting them.
"The amount of people that are actually going to benefit from something like this in the short term is relatively small," Van Gorden said. "I don't think we're going to look at all these punctures in the aquifer."
But Beebe described that argument as "not intellectually honest."
"If not that many people are going to do it, then why change the policy?" Beebe said. "I don't think we should be making policy decisions to accommodate a vocal few."