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Water warnings increase

Most people claim ignorance of, not disdain for, the county's water restrictions.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 2, 2000


When it comes to watering his lawn, Rudy Passaretti says he does his best to follow the twice-a-week rules.

At his home on River Country Drive in Spring Hill, Passaretti sprinkles on Tuesdays and Saturdays only, as permitted for even-numbered addresses. At a second property, where the grass is "not so good," he never waters. In times of drought, limitations make sense, he said.

"Otherwise," Passaretti said, "people put their water on all the time."

So imagine Passaretti's surprise when a Hernando County sheriff's deputy pulled into his driveway last weekend to issue him an official warning for violating the county's watering rules. He had been cleaning the filter for his swimming pool and, to get water pressure to his hose, he needed to put on the sprinklers. That's not allowed at 1 p.m. on a Saturday, and a neighbor called the cops.

"I wasn't even sprinkling," Passaretti said, adding that he did not know that the sprinklers must stay off between 10 a.m and 4 p.m. -- even on days when watering is allowed.

He was not alone. Forty-five other residents got warnings for sprinkling at the wrong times between March 25, the day Sheriff Tom Mylander ordered heightened enforcement of the water restrictions, and March 30. County Administrator Paul McIntosh added the county staff to the group watching for excessive watering on March 28.

They're getting serious because the signs all point to an extremely dry spring. Hernando experienced only a half-inch of rain in March and has had less than 3 inches this year, putting it about 8 inches behind the average for this time of year. The latest drought index for the county stood at 649 on a scale where 800 indicates desert-like conditions ripe for wildfires.

"It looks like (the number of warnings) is going to grow rather rapidly," Code Enforcement Director Frank McDowell III said. "What we're trying to do is a training and education process first. That's why we're using the door hanger."

Indeed, most of the violators who got the golden hang tag that lists the water shortage guidelines claimed ignorance of, not disdain for, the restrictions, said Frank McCabe, a code enforcement officer who gave out 23 warnings in two days.

Many did not know about the time frame for sprinkling, McCabe said. Several others incorrectly believed they could soak newly planted grass any time, any day.

"One gentleman said his sod company told him the rules," McCabe said. "He knew enough to ask the sod people, but I think they just wanted their sod to grow."

Gayle Becker, who lives on Aldoro Avenue in Spring Hill, said she got a warning because the timer on her sprinklers was acting up. "We're trying to be careful," Becker said. "We are fully aware of why. We're in a drought."

The thought of paying a fine -- $25 for the second violation, up to $500 for those that follow -- did not appeal to her. But she accepted it as a necessary and convincing disincentive.

"You're in danger of losing your lawn, and that's an expensive proposition," Becker said. "But drinking water is more important than your lawn."

Larry Daniels, who lives on Cecil Court in Spring Hill, complained that he ought to be able to water when he wants because he gets his water from a well.

"Nobody told me this before I spent $2,000 for the well," Daniels said. "But actually, if you have to watch the water, you have to watch the water. I guess it's fair."

To hear McCabe tell it, finding water scofflaws is simple.

As he drives his county-issued white pickup truck from inspection to inspection, he keeps an eye out for flashes of water.

"Those big sprinklers, those guns shoot out quite a bit," McCabe said. "They're easy."

And if one person is doing it, he has found, so too are some neighbors. On a job in Silverthorn, McCabe made a few extra loops around the development after seeing one home with sprinklers on. He ended up issuing warnings to four other homeowners.

Unfortunately, McDowell said, the county has only five code enforcement officers who have several responsibilities, such as monitoring overgrown lots and conducting fence permit inspections. Looking after the county's 43,284 single-family homes, 10,872 mobile homes, 399 apartment buildings and 1,286 commercial and industrial properties is impossible.

As a result, many people might be getting away with breaking the sprinkler laws, he said.

Such was the case at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Even as the sun peeked out to dry away the overnight rainwater, people could be seen watering their lawns in Silverthorn, along Mariner Drive and just off Spring Hill Drive. One church on Spring Hill Drive had more than six sprinklers spraying liberally while a group of men stood by watching.

To catch more of these violators, the county plans to pull utility workers, animal control officers and maybe even firefighters into the mix of folks authorized to hand out the warning tags. Code Enforcement will track the violations by street name and address, so all involved can know if they have multiple offenders -- which would be a first for Hernando County.

"It's a fairly serious offense," McDowell said.

* * *

Hernando watering rules

If your address ends in an even number or A-M, you may water the lawn on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

If your address ends in an odd number or N-Z, or if you have no given address, you may water the lawn on Wednesdays and Sundays.

New lawns and landscaping may be watered on any day of the week during a 30-day period, starting on the day the plants are put in.

Vehicles and boat motors may be washed on any day, at any time, so long as you use a shut-off nozzle. Commercial car washes are not under restrictions.

Golf courses may water fairways, roughs and non-play areas twice each week. Tees can be watered three times a week, and greens can be watered any night.

Cemeteries may water half their property on Monday and Thursday, and the other half on Tuesday and Friday.

All watering must take place between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m.

Irrigation using reclaimed water is not restricted.

If you cannot meet the restrictions, you can apply for a variance to: Demand Management Coordinator, Mail Code REG-ADM, 2379 Broad St., Brooksville, FL 34609-6899. Applications are available by calling (800) 848-0499 or (800) 423-1476, ext. 4498.

-- Source: Southwest Florida Water Management District

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