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Deluges help disguise drought

Heavy rains are back after a 3-year absence, and yard workers are scrambling to keep up while dodging the raindrops. And though the downpours have refilled lakes, they haven't raised aquifer levels or eased the drought.

[Times photo: Ron Thompson]
Kevin Kaiser, owner of Greenside Lawns and Landscaping, doesn't let wet conditions stop his busines. "The grass doesn't stop growing, and falling behind is the worst thing that can happen in this business."


© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 6, 2001

After several years of drought, Citrus County is sloshing its way through an honest-to-goodness Florida rainy season. Umbrellas, which sat untouched in a closet, now blossom regularly, and people going through their daily routines must deal with drizzles and downpours.

For the first time in three years, hard rains have fallen, making lawns and shrubs grow like mad.

According to rainfall figures provided by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, this is a better than average Florida rainy season.

The rainfall amount for June in Citrus was 8.43 inches, compared with a normal rainfall amount of 7.27 inches.

In July, Citrus had a whopping 10.67 inches of rain, compared with a normal average of 7.89 inches. Already this month, about 1.5 inches of rain has fallen, and a normal rainfall amount for August is 7.49 inches.

You won't find too many people grumbling about the rain, even those whose jobs require them to work outdoors full time. After all, if you work outdoors in Florida, notwithstanding the occasional drought, dealing with downpours becomes commonplace.

Workers building houses and cutting lawns try to work through rains, or take a short break until the heavy stuff slackens, then go back to work. The main problem is keeping up with a time schedule.

"It keeps us busy, that's the bottom line," said Kevin Kaiser, owner of Greenside Lawns and Landscaping of Inverness.

Kaiser said the rainy season also means an active growth rate, making him and his assistant work harder.

"We don't really have an option because it never stops," Kaiser said. "Getting way behind, though, is the worst possible scenario."

Kaiser said it's a common practice for him to work right through most rains. Only the darkest of thunderstorms and lightning will cause him to turn off his mower and wait in the truck.

"We'll mow in the rain. What we do is raise the mower deck an inch or so," he said. "Then we come back next time and do a closer trim."

Another landscaper and lawn care business owner, who operates 13 crews, says dodging raindrops is not new for him.

"The rain has promoted a higher quality of grass, which grows denser and faster," said Bob Munro of Munro's Landscaping in Homosassa.

"If it rains in the morning, we'll wait it out. If it's too bad, all you can really do is put it off until the next day, but then the backlog begins," he said.

Even with this healthy rainy season, the drought continues, based on measurements of the underground water table. Even though most of the lakes are looking healthier, it's a different story beneath the limestone.

The aquifer level is 1.93 feet below the very bottom of the normal range of readings as of July 31, according to Swiftmud. In other words, the aquifer would have to rise 1.93 feet to enter the very lowest of the normal readings. The aquifer would need to rise an additional 2 feet (in addition to the 1.93) to reach the middle of the normal range.

These aquifer recovery readings date to May 31, 2000. They have never entered the normal range during this time period. The closest the aquifer in Citrus got to the bottom normal range was 0.97 feet in September 2000.

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