Lawn irrigation changes to go into effect countywide on Jan. 1, 2023

Instead of providing for watering just two days a week, the schedule will expand to six, with each property owner still limited to one day a week

In May 2021, Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis was forced to issue an emergency order that prohibited the residential use of potable — or, drinking — water for lawn irrigation countywide.

That was necessary because of drought conditions, county staff reported.

The situation posed “an imminent threat of a water supply emergency in Sarasota County,” as a result of the increased use of potable water for residential outdoor uses, the Declaration of a State of Emergency said.

Additionally, heavy water usage on May 25, 2021 led to pressure issues for some businesses and residents, Mike Mylett, director of the county’s Public Utilities Department, explained in a May 26, 2021 Facebook Live video.

“We’re producing a lot of water,” Mylett pointed out. “We just can’t maintain the pressure in the system …”

“We’re implementing a lot of operational changes to our system,” he added, to help increase the water pressure in the areas that have experienced problems.

If individuals would reduce their demand for water, Mylett added, “Then we can assure [everyone] that people have water to take a shower,” for example.

In an effort to try to prevent future situations of a similar nature, Mylett won the unanimous approval of the county commissioners this week to modify the county’s regulations for lawn irrigation. While maintaining the once-a-week stipulation for residents in regard to watering, the modification will expand the days throughout the week, except for Sundays, Mylett noted.

The new schedule will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

“Especially during our dry months,” Mylett told the board members on Nov. 15, “we have tremendous demands on our potable water system,” because of irrigation.

Roughly 100,000 customers add “up to 10 million gallons” of water to their lawns on the two days allowed, he said: Tuesdays and Thursdays.

After the rainy season begins — generally, in the summer months — irrigation demand drops off, Mylett continued. Nonetheless, he pointed out, staff still sees increased demand on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

A graph in Mylett’s PowerPoint presentation showed that the demand for wastewater in May 2021 averaged 14 million gallons a day; that had grown to 16.9 million gallons a day (mgd) in July 2021. (Fully treated wastewater — referred to as “reclaimed water” — is used for irrigation.)

The same graph showed that the demand for potable water in May 2021 was 24 mgd; however, that figure fell to 19.9 mgd in July 2021.

Because of the growing numbers, Mylett explained, staff wants to spread that demand over six days a week. “It’s still going to depend on your address,” he noted of the schedule he and his staff had created.

The existing county resolution allows the public to irrigate lawns on Tuesdays if their addresses end in even numbers or the letters A through M, as stipulated in a 2006 County Commission resolution; for addresses ending in odd numbers or the letters N through Z, watering is allowed only on Thursdays.

Providing for four extra days “will produce more predictable demands and create a more stable operational scenario with the potable water system,” a county staff memo explained.

County staff members had “reviewed multiple irrigation restrictions” imposed by other utility departments in the region, the memo pointed out. As a result, the memo said, staff members believe “this is the most sustainable approach for our system.”

However, looking at a slide Mylett was showing the board about practices in other jurisdictions, Commissioner Christian Ziegler noted that other counties, such as Manatee, Charlotte and Pinellas, allow homeowners to irrigate their lawns two days each week.

When he asked why, Mylett responded that that is based on direction from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). When drought conditions begin, Mylett added, the District restricts irrigation to one day a week.

“We have historically been at one day,” Mylett pointed out. “One day a week is adequate for … basically the demand for your lawn,” if people add about half an inch of water.

“OK,” Ziegler responded.

Then Mylett told the commissioners that he and his staff have worked with the county’s Communications Department on a plan designed to educate the members of the public about the new schedule, so everyone will be aware of it as the county moves into the dry season.

Another slide in Mylett’s presentation noted that staff would create a webpage about the irrigation changes, insert an informational sheet in residents’ utility bills, post advisories on social media, produce “how to” videos, and publish a public notice in a newspaper.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger made the motion to approve the changes, and Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it.

The changes themselves

This is the new schedule for irrigation, as shown in the resolution the commissioners adopted:

  1. “Irrigation for sites with addresses that end in the numbers 0 or 1 may occur only on Monday.
  2. “Irrigation for sites with addresses that end in the numbers 2 or 3 may occur only on Tuesday.
  3. “Irrigation for sites with addresses that end in the numbers 4 or 5 may occur only on Wednesday.
  4. “Irrigation for sites with addresses that end in the numbers 6 or 7 may occur only on Thursday.
  5. “Irrigation for sites with addresses that end in the numbers 8 or 9 may occur only on Friday.
  6. “Irrigation for sites with addresses that end in the letters A through Z and common area landscaping with no address assigned (i.e., entranceways to developments, median and roadside plantings, around clubhouses, and recreational elements) shall be irrigated only on Saturday.”

Further, the resolution points out that no irrigation is allowed on the assigned days between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Further, it says, “No portion of any landscaped area shall receive more than one complete irrigation application each allowable irrigation day.”