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Cape’s water management vote expected Monday

By Staff | May 5, 2012

When the Cape Coral City Council votes Monday on a proposed ordinance to update water management standards, a few big questions could be answered.

What form will it take, and after the vote Monday, will the new standards be implemented as soon as Tuesday?

The answer to the latter is most likely no. As for the former, that’s a little murkier.

“Most people are focused on Stage I (water emergency standards), and I won’t be recommending it as soon as the ordinance is passed,” said Utilities Director Jeff Pearson. “This is just a tool we can use. We’re in OK shape. Not great, but OK. That rain over the weekend helped.”

Current law limits the use of irrigation water to four hours a day, twice a week, according to the last number of your address. But under an ordinance brought forth by Councilmember Marty McClain, there would be a three-step approach in the event of a water emergency.

The first step would be an advisory stage, where irrigation reduction would be voluntary.

The next would be Stage I, where watering would be reduced to one, four-hour time period.

The final stage would be Stage II, where watering lawns would be prohibited and water use would only be allowed for emergencies and services, like fire and hospitals.

“We have a limited supply of irrigation water. All of it comes from our wastewater plant,” Pearson said. “This has to be distributed evenly so at night, we don’t have 75 percent of our customers turning on their sprinklers.”

During last Monday’s workshop, however, Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz proposed a compromise plan which would add an extra step in the emergency plan.

The first stage would still be advisory, but next would be a Stage I where watering would be limited to two, two-hour shifts per week.

The next step, Stage II, would limit watering to two hours, once per week, before Stage III triggered a prohibition.

That proposal was criticized by staff as being hard to enforce under such time constraints.

The penalties would be, after an initial warning, $100 for the next violation, $200 for the next, and $400 for any subsequent violation.

The Chulakes-Leetz proposal didn’t suggest different punitive measures, but questioned the city’s ability to practice what it preaches.

Councilmember Lenny Nesta said he doesn’t know what form the ordinance will take when it’s finally voted on.

“An ordinance is an ordinance as it comes before council. I don’t know if they’ll talk about hybrids,” Nesta said.

“It’s a city/administration consideration. Council will consider both options,” said city spokesperson Connie Barron. “They’ll adopt the ordinance as written or modify it.”

The question also remains if the bill is passed, will the city immediately call a water emergency for what has been a very dry season, even in the shadows of the start of rainy season next month?

“No. We’re following Southwest Florida guidelines,” Nesta said. “We’re trying to be proactive so if an emergency is declared we won’t have to declare an ordinance.”

According to Pearson, there’s no question the ordinance will pass in some form.

“This drought has the potential to be worse than 2007. We don’t know if we’re at the bottom,” Pearson said.