Water restrictions are going unenforced in Citrus County
By ALEX LEARY and BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
© St. Petersburg Times,
The letter that arrived at Wayne Saxer's Sugarmill Woods home last month was blunt. His lawn looked a bit ragged, a violation of the deed restriction, and he had 14 days to correct the situation.
"One of my friends got one, too," said Saxer, who ignored the citation from the property owners' association. "In order to fix it, I would have had to use a bunch of water."
If he had decided to revive the St. Augustine turf by turning on the sprinkler two or three times per week, Saxer probably could have done so without fear of penalty.
Citrus County law enforcement has paid little attention to emergency water restrictions enacted by the Southwest Florida Water Management District in May 2000.
Swiftmud limits watering to once per week but it is up to local governments to enforce the regulations, by handing out warnings and, if necessary, fines.
In Crystal River, six citations have been written this year, carrying fines between $50 and $100. Offenders have been slow to respond.
Until last week, only one of the fines had been paid within the 30-day time period stated on the citation. After one month, the cases were supposed to be transferred to county court. They were not.
One of the businesses to receive a $50 violation was Eckerd's on U.S. 19. A police officer noticed the drugstore's sprinklers in use at 2 a.m. May 26, a Saturday.
The fine was paid in person last week, moments after a Citrus Times reporter raised the issue. "It was an oversight on our part," said corporate spokeswoman Tammi Alderman.
Crystal River Police Lt. Gordon Rowland said he is working to clarify the procedures and said the city intends to be more diligent about collecting fines.
"If they haven't paid and don't have legitimate reasons not to pay, then they will get a misdemeanor citation and go to court," he said.
Enforcement of watering restrictions outside Crystal River has been virtually non-existent.
Records show that neither the Citrus County Sheriff's Office nor the Inverness Police Department has handed out warnings or citations to residents who watered on off days.
"To my knowledge, we have not had a single call in the past year and a half reporting that someone was violating the watering restrictions," Inverness Police Chief Joe Elizarde said. "We just don't get them."
Sheriff's spokeswoman Ronda Hemminger Evan said it is possible that deputies have issued a few warnings or citations that were logged into the sheriff's computer system as miscellaneous reports.
Evan said no reports appear under the recently added computer tracking code for watering violations.
"It's highly likely that deputies could have gone out to calls or seen someone watering and verbally said to someone, 'You're not in compliance; you need to stop watering,"' Evan said.
"But that would not be a written warning, so it would not be in (the sheriff's computerized record system)."
At any rate, Evan said the sheriff has higher priorities than ticketing residents for running their sprinklers out of turn.
"Certainly it's going to be lower on the priority scale than emergency calls or a call for basic law enforcement services," Evan said.
Crystal River Police Chief Jim Farley said the same was true in his department. "I would rather have cops out looking for burglars than little old ladies watering their lawns."
County code enforcement officers cannot issue citations, but they do send out informational fliers to anyone who is reported as a watering violator, said code enforcement officer Jerry Schaaf.
Twenty fliers have gone out from January to May, mostly to people who were reported to Swiftmud, he said.
"If we see somebody watering, we do our educational thing," Schaaf said. "But we don't have citation powers."
Swiftmud has been aggressive about raising the issue with possible violators. This month, the agency sent out 27 letters to Citrus County residents believed to have overwatered and five letters to repeat offenders.
The letters remind people that the restrictions "were designed to conserve our most precious natural resource by reducing inefficient uses of water."
Those hoping the water restrictions may fade with the onset of the rainy season may have to keep waiting. Swiftmud has no plans to drop its emergency water restrictions.
"We have over 2 feet rain deficit over the past 2 1/2 years," spokesman Mike Molligan said.
To better understand the situation, consider this analogy:
You lost your job a few months ago and are living on credit, sliding heavily into debt. Eventually you find employment, which is great because you can afford day-to-day expenses. But the debt has piled up so high that even the most generous paycheck seems modest.
"That's kind of what it's like now with the drought," Molligan said. "Normal summer rainfall is not going to pull us through."
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