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Drought affects balance sheets

Some Citrus County businesses are losing money because of the lack of rain, but others are seeing more business.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Steve Hasel]
This lake at Inverness Golf & Country Club has become a dry eyesore, but is an area ripe for golf ball recovery efforts.
CRYSTAL RIVER -- It may be Pearl Reyes' bad luck that she sells a product requiring lots of water.

The owner of Stonesifer's Greenhouse specializes in annuals, those colorful flowers that come and go with the seasons. But with the ongoing drought, business has wilted a bit.

"Normally it doesn't slow down until after Mother's Day," she said. "It slowed down after Easter.

"I've never seen it this dry."

While every day without rain cuts into some bottom lines, other businesses are benefitting from the demand for water. Well drillers are working long hours as they attempt to restore water pressure to residents affected by low water tables.

"The drought doesn't make us busier," said Raymond Townsend, owner of Citrus Well Drilling in Hernando. "It just makes us further behind. Sometimes we're four to five weeks behind."

Most of the problem wells are older and were installed when groundwater was easier to find, he said. As a result, much of his workload involves lowering pumps into existing wells. Instead of doing several every few months, he's up to one and two a week.

Townsend said he tries to avoid sinking new wells, which can cost upwards of $7,000. People who cannot even draw drinking water from their taps are his highest priorities.

"If somebody's living someplace and they absolutely have no water, if at all possible we'll try to resolve that as quickly as possible," Townsend said. "Sometimes we run water from a neighbor's house."

Relief may be in sight for people suffering from low pressure problems. Working with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Citrus County on Tuesday resolved a delay in implementing a new watering schedule that will allot count residents one watering day per week between Monday and Friday.

The County Commission will vote next Tuesday on the emergency ordinance, which also includes new enforcement measures. The first fine for violating the restrictions would be $25. The fourth fine could cost a violator $500 and 60 days in jail.

Craig Collins, owner of Color Country Nursery on State Road 44 in Lecanto, is hoping to get a boost from the drought. Collins sells many varieties of drought-resistant plants, which governmental entities, such as Swiftmud and the Citrus County Cooperative Extension Service, would like people to use more often.

Walking amid rows of shrubs and ground cover, Collins pointed to numerous species able to withstand the current conditions. While people can hand water their plants during the emergency one-day-per-week irrigation restrictions, the district wants people to use as little water as possible.

Purple queen, junipers, Texas sage and palm trees all are ideal for dry weather, Collins said. Purslane, a ground cover blossoming in a variety of bright colors, needs almost no water to survive, he said.

But Collins knows he is going up against the prevailing attitude that glorifies green lawns and more conventional, thirsty plants, such as azaleas. He hopes some new displays will interest people more in xeriscaping -- landscaping with dry weather plants.

"It is better for the environment all the way around," Collins said. "People think this water restriction is bad, and they haven't even seen nothing yet."

Pity poor Richard Meahl, president and owner of Aero Pest Control in Crystal River. He recently has lost about 8 percent of his customer base.

"So many lawn customers . . . they think it's a chinch bug problem, fungi, anything but the drought," he said. "You can understand these people. They pay $50 to $60 every other month to put down insecticides and their lawn is starting to look bad."

But, "If it ain't got no water," he said, "it ain't going to survive."

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