Editorial: Water conservation program worth saving
Published Aug. 16, 2013

The regional water supplier has wisely recognized the merits of a conservation program abandoned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The directors of Tampa Bay Water should make up for the water district's irresponsibility and save Florida-Friendly Landscaping in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

The program — promoting conservation, environmental protection and lower monthly water bills for homeowners — had been jointly paid for by Tampa Bay Water and the water management district for the past decade. The water district's board, however, killed the appropriation three weeks ago and decided to funnel money into a new marketing effort targeting water savings in the homebuilding industry. The decision left 11 counties scrambling to continue the conservation programs without the Swiftmud money.

The staff at Tampa Bay Water, the wholesale water supplier to the region, is recommending the utility pick up the additional $161,000 to keep the program coordinators working in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco for the coming year. The agency's directors should approve that recommendation when they meet today.

Those program coordinators have worked with neighborhood associations and other groups to educate the public about drought-tolerant plants, rain barrel construction and other conservation tips. The focus changed this year to so-called measurable water savings — one-on-one visits to heavy water users to suggest individual conservation strategies that would cut water use and monthly bills. That same mission will continue under Tampa Bay Water.

Action by Tampa Bay Water's board cannot help the remaining counties within the water management district, including Hernando. Its utilities department is trying to find money to keep operating the high-value program that helped cut Hernando County's water use by 20 percent since 2006. Florida-Friendly Landscaping is a worthwhile environmental and money-saving effort that needs to be preserved.