Water authorities traditionally have difficulty convincing Tampa Bay area residents that they need to conserve water. But that message, along with high water bills for irrigation, got through to residents of the Royal Stewart Arms condominium complex in Dunedin. They got to work on cutting their water use, with spectacular results. They set an example others should follow.
In 2006, the sprawling complex near the entrance to Honeymoon Island spent $38,232 on irrigating its 23 acres. In 2008, the water bill plummeted to $3,814. The complex used 90 percent less water in 2008 than it did in 2006.
And residents say the landscaping looks better than ever.
The residents got a small grant from the city of Dunedin and set about modifying their landscape so it would require less water. The Pinellas County Extension Service worked with residents on the design of the new landscaping, offering tips on plants better suited to the Florida environment.
Plants with similar water needs were grouped together, and those that needed a little more water than nature provides were watered with a micro-drip irrigation system that directs water to the roots of plants.
The complex still has plenty of grassy lawn, but after experimenting with the watering schedule, residents found it could survive on far less water than they had used in the past.
Residents provided volunteer labor and paid less than $2,000 for a professional landscape design and plants.
It is that kind of focused effort that water officials wish others would use, whether they are large water users like 449-unit Royal Stewart Arms or single-family homeowners. The Extension Service at (727) 582-2100 has a horticultural staff eager to advise residents and business owners on ways to make their landscape less water-intensive, and there is a wealth of written material on extension's Web site at pinellas.ifas.ufl.edu/.
Every drop of treated water used on landscaping is a drop unavailable for drinking water. The Southwest Florida Water Management District already has limited lawn watering to once a week in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, but the agency's officials emphasize that in the winter, lawns can survive with even less watering.
The current water problem is caused by an extended drought, but has been exacerbated by the appearance of cracks in the regional reservoir in Hillsborough. The water level in the reservoir had to be lowered.
Because of a rainfall deficit in 2007 and 2008, surface water sources such as rivers are low and going lower. The extended forecast is for a continuation of below-normal rainfall during 2009. Swiftmud officials say they will be forced to pump more groundwater, but pumping too much groundwater can lead to saltwater intrusion and environmental damage.
A lot of water could be saved if others followed the lead of the residents at Royal Stewart Arms. With help from experts, you can cut your water use and lower your water bill. And these days, that's a good thing.