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How low can we go?: Drought affects Cape Coral canals, wells

By Staff | Jun 18, 2011

Despite what is typically viewed by officials as the peak of wet season next week, drought conditions continue across the region and in Cape Coral.
“This is abnormal,” Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District, which encompasses Lee County, said. “Usually at this point, we would be seeing an inch and a half or more of rainfall per week.”
“Obviously, we haven’t seen that,” he said.
Low rainfall totals at the start of the wet season have contributed to the current situation, along with below-normal rainfall during the dry season.
The district recorded 13.22 inches of rainfall from Oct. 1 to June 15 — 12.37 inches below average, officials reported. The Southwest Coast basin, which includes the Cape, had 13.94 inches — 11.21 inches below average.
“It looks like we’re going to have the driest October through the middle of June,” Smith said. “We had the driest October on record.”
The district also experienced the driest start to a wet season in more than 20 years, according to officials. Next week marks the peak of the season.
“We’re not anywhere close to that at the moment,” he said.
The lack of rainfall has caused water levels in some Cape canals to visibly drop and underground aquifers to reach record lows in certain areas.
“We haven’t had rain and rain is what puts the water back in,” Smith said.
The Cape has even received reports of some wells going dry.
“We have had some people call,” city spokeswoman Connie Barron said. “They’re unable to pump water because the watertable has dropped so low.”
The Cape last encountered a similar situation about four years ago.
“A lot of the complaints we had in 2007 were in the southwest, before the utilities were completed,” she said.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Barron added of wells running dry.
Owners must have the well dropped deeper into the ground. Older Cape wells go down about 80 to 120 feet. Newer ones go down a couple hundred feet.
Tom Evenson is the co-owner of H20 Systems, a business that drills wells and installs water treatment systems in the local area. Evenson said it has been a longer dry season than usual, but his call volume has not changed.
“It seems like the normal amount, as calls go,” he said of dry wells.
“We get calls all the time,” Evenson said.
He cited the low watertable as one cause and stressed the need for rain.
“I think once the rainy season starts, everything will be about normal,” Evenson said, adding that “there’s certain areas that have been just fine.”
The city has a year-round watering schedule in place to help conservative resources. Non-residential units, duplexes and multi-family units can water on Monday and Friday from midnight to 8 a.m. Single-family home addresses that end in the following numbers are allowed to water on the listed days and times:
O: Monday and Friday from midnight to 4 a.m.
1: Monday and Friday from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
2: Thursday and Sunday from midnight to 4 a.m.
3: Wednesday and Saturday from midnight to 4 a.m.
4: Thursday and Sunday from midnight to 4 a.m.
5: Wednesday and Saturday from midnight to 4 a.m.
6: Thursday and Sunday from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
7: Wednesday and Saturday from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
8: Thursday and Sunday from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
9: Wednesday and Saturday from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
There are no watering restrictions for car washing or pressure cleaning.
For new landscaping, plants 30 days or younger can be watered every day except on Friday from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. Plants 31 days to 60 days old can be watered during those hours on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Hand watering is permitted for 10 minutes per day on any day.
According to Barron, the watering schedule was implemented in 2007.
“We put the schedule in place that changed the watering times, and we’ve pretty much kept those in place,” she said.
First-time offenders of the restrictions are issued a warning.
A $100 fine is administered on the second offense, while violators are fined $200 for the third offense. For the fourth and subsequent offenses, the fine is $400 with the chance of disconnection. There is an $80 reconnection fee.
Barron reported that there were about 1,780 watering cases recorded between Jan. 1, 2010 and June 15, 2010. During the same time this year, the city had recorded 682 cases.
“The city had contract watering enforcement officers in place (in 2010),” she said, adding that the positions were eliminated from the budget.
Officials expect that the wet season will pick up in coming weeks.
“We know it’s going to rain. We don’t know where or how much,” Smith said.
He called the current situation “one of the more severe droughts” that officials have seen, but conditions have not reached a record yet.
In 2007, Lake Okeechobee reached its lowest level when waters got below 9 feet.
For more information on the city’s watering schedule, visit: capecoral.net .