St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse is offering a good first step in reducing the city's water demands. Nurse is proposing incentives for native landscapes and setting limits on water-hogging St. Augustine grass in new developments.
His plan, to be heard by the council's Public Safety and Infrastructure Committee Thursday, is twofold. First, he proposes refunding permitting fees for construction that voluntarily excludes St. Augustine turf in favor of drought-tolerant plants. New homes would receive $150; commercial properties, $300. More importantly, the incentive could build support for native landscaping and xeriscaping practices.
In addition, Nurse proposes prohibiting a new home from having more than half of its yard planted with St. Augustine; commercial properties would be limited to 10 percent. Modeled after rules in Pasco County, the limits would, for all practical purposes, still allow a new home to have St. Augustine in the front yard, if the back yard was planted with drought-tolerant grass or plants. This is a reasonable compromise between the convention of St. Augustine grass and the reality of a parched region and its need to conserve water even after the drought ends.
The committee and council should embrace the change. St. Petersburg's development rules should reflect a priority in protecting scarce water resources.