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Ignore the water-rule enforcers; use micros

By BARBARA FREDRICKSEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001


Wouldn't this have made a nifty story: The water police giving a ticket to the head of the county's water department for violating watering restrictions?

It didn't happen, but it could have because of some crossed wires in the Pasco County Code Compliance office.

The story started shortly after the county adopted its water-restriction ordinance. Like a good conservationist, Pasco County Utility Department head Doug Bramlett put drip pipes in his flower beds and hedge rows. After all, those tiny little drips at the root of a plant are the most effective and conservative way to use water. Sprayed water often evaporates, runs off or waters dirt with no plants.

The problem is, someone forgot to tell the Pasco Code Compliance people that microirrigation systems ("micros," for short) are okay in landscape beds. As late as Thursday afternoon, if you called Code Compliance and asked if you could use a micro (soaker hose, drip line, bubbler, capillary mat, low-volume spray) on your shrub, vegetable and flower beds, you were told, "They're not allowed."

Wrong.

Pasco County's ordinance doesn't forbid micros in landscape beds, according to Joe Richards, the attorney for the utilities/water department.

"Our ordinance doesn't strictly prohibit (them), so Swiftmud (Southwest Florida Water Management District) ordinances control," Richards said on Wednesday.

The Swiftmud ordinance says: "Flower beds, vegetable gardens and other non-lawn areas may be irrigated as needed using hand watering, microirrigation and other forms of horticulturally appropriate "low-volume' irrigation without respect to the day of week."

Pasco's ordinance says that any watering must be done between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., so you can microirrigate your landscape beds during those hours any day of the week, not just your watering day, according to both Bramlett and Richards.

Viv Harris, the County Extension director and horticultural agent, and her staff are big boosters of micros.

"Oh, my, this is what we promote: microirrigation systems. Not only can you use them, but you should. We advise to have all landscape beds micro," she said. "If you make them part of your irrigation system, you can program them to come on as many days as you want."

The caveat is that you don't also sprinkle or spray the shrubs, veggie and flower beds on your watering day. On that day, you sprinkle or spray only your turf grass.

If you don't micro, plant experts say once-a-week watering of established shrubs is plenty, if you have several inches of mulch -- preferably pine bark, pine needles, eucalyptus or melaleuca (puh-lease not cypress, which is the most environmentally unfriendly mulch of all) -- and drought-tolerant plants. The Florida Native Plant Society says established native plants can survive on available rainfall.

So, no matter what Code Compliance tells you, go soak your shrub.

* * *

Even though I didn't buy a rain barrel at the recent workshop, I learned a lot about helping my plants and yard survive this drought from County Extension Office employees and from the booklets they gave out.

Two more free Rain Barrel Workshops are June 2, one in Brooksville, the other in New Port Richey.

The first one is at at 9:30 a.m. at the Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service office at 19409 Oliver St., Brooksville, just north of the fairgrounds on State Road 41. If you want a rain barrel, call in advance at (352) 754-4433 to reserve one. The cost is $20, including spigot and screen.

The other is at 11 a.m. at the Pasco County Utilities Department at the east end of the government complex on Little Road. The workshop is free, but completed rain barrels are $17. The ordering deadline for this workshop has passed, but if you go to the workshop, you can order one to pick up later.

The only rule is, in order to get the county-made rain barrels, you have to attend the workshops, Ms. Harris said.

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