Officials in Davenport and Haines City have been aggressively annexing land for new residential subdivisions in their former rural outskirts in recent years.
Water line extensions typically accompany the subsequent development that the annexations anticipated and were contingent on.
As a result, officials in those cities have complained about not having enough permitted water capacity to meet projected growth demands. They have tentatively discussed trying to develop their own so-called alternative water supplies by tapping the lower reaches of the Floridan aquifer as the Polk Regional Water Cooperative is planning to do at two planned wellfields at the edge of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern north of Lakeland and in the Lake Walkinwater area east of Lake Wales.
However during this week’s PRWC meeting, a presentation on potential water conservation strategies to reduce indoor and outdoor (read lawn irrigation) residential water consumption revealed officials in Davenport, Haines City and most of the other cities in Polk County have no one on staff assigned to deal with water conservation even though aggressive conservation measures could reduce the need for developing new water sources and perhaps allow cities to live within their water budgets.
And, even in cities that do have a staff member assigned to water conservation, the practical effect is unclear based on casual observation of some residents’ water consumption patterns that belie conservation efforts.
Some residents in newer homes don’t have rain sensors even though they’re supposed to. That means the lawn sprinklers are sometimes running full blast in the morning after an inch of rain fell the night before.
Many lots are still dominated by a turf monoculture which requires not only more water, but more fertilizers and pesticides to maintain this high-input and outdated landscape.
The water savings are not trivial, either.
The Polk County Extension Office, which is working the PRWC on water conservation issues, estimates residents who follow their recommendations for adjusting their irrigation methods and their landscaping practices could save tens of thousands of gallons of water a year. Multiply that by the number of new homes that typically use more water than older homes because they come with a pre-installed irrigation system. Older homes use less water because many of them do not have irrigation systems.
Hiring water conservation staffers costs money, but the expense seems small compared to the tens of millions of dollars that will go into an alternative water projects that might not be needed if cities didn’t allow so much water to be wasted in the first place.