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New water conservation ordinance, more for city

By MEGHAN BRADBURY / news@breezenewspapes.com - | Sep 28, 2020

The Sanibel Planning Commission was made aware of a new water conservation ordinance, as well as new yard waste collection requirements, during its meeting on Sept. 22.

Director of Community Services Keith Williams said prior to the recent rain events, the city was in dialogue with the South Florida Water Management District about adopting what would be considered a model ordinance relative to water conservation and water use, which has been an ongoing process. He said the Sanibel City Council did end up adopting the ordinance relative to water use and restrictions and allowances.

The city sent out a notice that starting Sept. 18 irrigation is permitted only two days per week year-round. Based upon the property address, those with odd-numbered addresses are permitted to water on Monday and Thursday and even-numbered addresses are permitted on Tuesday and Friday. The notice also informed residents that no irrigation is permitted between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The provisions of the newly adopted ordinance include:

– Additional watering for up to 90 days is permitted following installation of new lawns and landscaping.

– The use of reclaimed or harvested rainwater for irrigation is allowed anytime.

– Low-volume devices are excluded from restrictions.

– The regular maintenance and replacement of worn or broken technology, which interrupts or inhibits the operation of an automatic landscape irrigation system, is not a violation if repairs are conducted within an reasonable time.

“This is a permanent fixture, so we are going to continue the educational process with our residents to make sure they understand why it is important. We have been partnering with Island Water (Association) to put out a little brochure, since they are the ones supplying that water, about the benefits of water conservation,” Williams said.

He also touched upon the rain events that occurred on the island on Sept. 13, saying it more or less rained from midnight to midnight. He said they provided a very significant challenge to the city and its infrastructure. Before Sept. 13, there was a significant rain event on Sept. 5, just one week prior when the city received 3.78 inches of rain.

“Later on that week, we received another 1.13 inches and then 1.27 inches and then another half-inch and then another nine-tenths of an inch,” Williams said. “By the time we reached Saturday, the day before Sunday, we had already received more rain in the month of September than we received in all of August.”

With the ground already saturated and the water levels high, the city’s weir system was already being used to release some water in the interior wetlands of the Sanibel River.

In about a 24-hour period on Sept. 13, Williams said they received about 12.11 inches of rain, which based on the SFWMD, qualifies them for a 100-year rain event on Sanibel.

“We fully opened the weir system to lower the river levels. We reached record high, to my knowledge, of what our river measurements were at our reading points,” he said.

On top of that, Williams said, they also experienced what you would expect with additional water into the sanitary and sewer system. He said pretty much every single lift station on the island — the 133 that they manage — was in high level alarm. All of them were working at 100 percent.

Williams said the waste water treatment plant, which is permitted for 2.375 million gallons per day, had water coming in at over 6 million gallons per day flow.

“We were able to manage that very delicately to keep our plant from overflowing and keep it operating all the way through it,” he said of his staff.

The analogy he used was driving a car at 1200 rpms when driving down the road. With the rain event, the analogy included driving a car at 6,500 rpms to 7,500 rpms for three days straight without trying to blow the engine out.

“Thankfully most of those challenges are behind us,” Williams said.

The commissioners asked about the flooding of homes, which he explained it has to occur on finished floors when it comes to reportable flooding.

“We have not received any information relative to an insurance claim to a finished floor on Sanibel,” Williams said.

Horticulture waste was also addressed.

Plastic bags are no longer approved for yard and horticulture waste for collection as of Oct. 1. The yard and horticulture waste must be properly bundled, containerized in refuse containers, or disposed of in biodegradable paper lawn and leaf bags.

Williams said there are two components to what happens with solid waste on the island — the gathering and transportation, and the disposal.

“The city is responsible for the pick up and transportation. We do that through a bid out contract that is handled by Advanced Disposal,” he said. “They pick up regular household waste, recycling and they pick up horticultural waste. The disposal is handled by Lee County Solid Waste Division & Utilities.”

Williams went on to explain that they operate three different facilities. The solid waste disposal facility, which is for regular garbage, is more or less an incinerator and is used to generate electricity to put power back on the grid.

“The regular waste you put out does not go to a landfill,” he said, adding that it is used to generate electricity.

The recycling is sent to the Lee County Recycling facility, where everything is separated. Again, recyclables should be left loose in the bin as plastic bags are not accepted.

The final is the horticultural waste, which Williams said is gathered up and taken to a Lee County facility where it is grounded to mulch, which is made available to the public at various locations around the county.

“The key element here is that plastic bags are not an effective and allowable method for storing your yard waste,” he said, adding that plastic bags cannot be put through the mulcher. “They bind up the gears of the mulcher. They do not want plastic bags.”

Williams said Lee County donated to the city more than 3,000 paper bags that are suitable for yard waste. They are available for free — five per visitor — at the Public Works Department.

He said palm fronds can still be stacked and bundled and yard waste can still be put in a large plastic container that can be dumped into the trucks.