Regional water managers say the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program promoting conservation, environmental protection and lower monthly water bills for homeowners is a worthwhile effort that should be continued — as long as somebody else pays for it. That is shirking responsibility.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District should put a higher value on this initiative. County governments facing their own tight budgets should not have to find the money to save a valuable program. If the landscaping program can save 25 million gallons of water annually in Pasco County, for instance, that amounts to $100,000 worth of water.
The district said it has reimbursed 11 counties about $4.4 million over the past decade to maintain program coordinators employed by the local governments. Those coordinators formerly worked with neighborhood associations to educate residents about drought-tolerant plants, rain barrel construction and other conservation tips. The focus changed this year, at the direction of the water district, to what it dubbed measurable water savings — one-on-one visits to heavy water users.
The water district now plans to allocate the coordinators' salaries to a separate water conservation program aimed at new home construction. Targeting home builders to save water via selection of appliances, plumbing, construction materials and outdoor landscaping should be encouraged. But it is unacceptable to largely ignore the existing audience — homeowners already paying property taxes to the district — just because the current program is time consuming.
The water management district's governing board meets next week to set its preliminary tax rate for its $169 million budget for the coming fiscal year. The board should ensure that the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program remains intact.