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Cape council approves watering ordinance

By Staff | May 8, 2012

Although it conceded that education was the key to saving water and that maybe the system is the problem, the Cape Coral City Council approved 5-2 Monday a controversial water management ordinance that re-establishes the irrigation schedule and an emergency conservation plan.

The mayor and a councilman voted no, suggesting the city is its own worst violator and that the supposed 19 million gallons of reclaimed water being used on a day where watering is not allowed may be due to leaks in the system.

Mayor John Sullivan immediately went on the offensive, telling utilities manager Jeff Pearson that his computations for average consumption seemed way off.

“Half the people illegally watering on Tuesday is too high. We’re losing water in other ways,” Sullivan said. “We’re jumping into this too quick. If illegal watering is happening Tuesday, it’s happening every day.”

Public comment suggested the big problem is education.

Former Cape Coral mayor Joe Mazurkiewicz told the council only a fraction of the watering can produce results, if people knew how to do it.

“I water 20 minutes two times a week and have a beautiful lawn,” Mazurkiewicz said. “Irrigation water is an amazing resource. It’s education and engineering.”

Former council member Bill Deile pulled out a previous ordinance and said the system was unable to deliver the water.

“This system can’t meet the demand and never will. Admit the system is a failure,” Deile said. “Those not on the system shouldn’t be punished for it.”

Scott King, of the Florida Irrigation Society, suggested forming a committee that could help bring local irrigation into the 21st century.

“We reinvent ourselves every five to seven years. We can’t allow this issue to turn the city brown,” King said. “New technologies use water better.”

The council agreed education and checking its own system is key.

“There is a lack of education and we need to check the system,” Councilmember Marty McClain said. “We need to become stewards of the water and govern and watch ourselves.”

But council also agreed that safety has to be the paramount goal.

“We have people talking about landscaping, yet here we are in a state like we were in back in 2007,” Councilmember Derrick Donnell said. “This is an issue of emergency.

“This is about fire suppression. In the north when canals go dry. In a fire, we can lose homes,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said. “If that happens, bring the marshmallows. You’re not saving them.”

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz asked if it’s right for the city to fine people when the city is the worst offender.

“If we waste water, do we write ourselves citations?” Chulakes-Leetz asked code enforcement director Kevin Cassidy. “We are the worst offenders. How can we enact something we can’t follow ourselves?”

Cassidy explained code enforcement doesn’t have the resources to send people out at all hours of the day and that water is a minute fraction of what it does.

“Then let’s get police and public works out there. Get boots on the streets,” Leetz said. “Otherwise we’re exchanging paperwork and doing nothing.”

The council then approved the measure 5-2, with Chulakes-Leetz and Sullivan in opposition. John Carioscia was absent because of a death in the family.

“This was a good choice to conserve water for the city and extend this limited resource,” Pearson said. “We can always do a better job educating the public about conservation. It’s up to us to get the word out.”