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Irrigation ordinance gets dry reception

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Apr 15, 2021

The Cape Coral City Council spent a good portion of its Wednesday workshop debating the merits and weaknesses of a proposed ordinance that would change the way homeowners irrigate their lawns.

However, while the ordinance showed some promise, most felt it was rough draft that left more questions than answers.

So, it’s back to the drawing board and meetings with stakeholders, at least for now, with a certainty the proposal will return for another workshop meeting, and maybe even a council vote in the fall.

The proposal to require irrigation systems that were “smarter,” came about due to environmental concerns. Population growth has given rise to water conservation problems, waste of source water supply, and degradation of water quality and quantity, officials said.

That means conservation is going to have to be practiced to meet future demand, and further regulation of private irrigation systems will go a long way toward that goal, according to the staff presentation given by Utilities Director Jeff Pearson.

The problem is that of all irrigation water used in the city, more than half is wasted as it evaporates, goes onto the sidewalks and streets and into the canals, which become polluted if the water happens to be carrying fertilizer, he said.

City staff is proposing, among other things, that new homes carry Smart Systems that can use half the water while helping decrease fertilizer runoffs and so algal blooms.

That ran into some pushback from Bill Johnson Jr., executive director of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, who although he said it was a good first start, there were items of concern.

“We all want to have water conservation, but we want to do it that benefits the entire city as a whole and doesn’t put extra fees, time and bureaucracy,” Johnson said.

Johnson said contractors are telling him the cost of housing is going up as much as $30 per foot while Mayor John Gunter said new irrigation systems can add an additional $2,000 to $4,000.

“That won’t affect the higher-end homes. The builders building those starter homes that offer irrigation systems, if that cost doubles, it’s one of the first things that won’t be an included item, but an option,” Johnson said.

On Council, the consensus was that city staff should continue to work on the draft ordinance and bring the stakeholders back to the table to hear suggestions.

Councilmember Tom Hayden said the draft came sooner than expected, but when he sees sidewalks and streets being irrigated, that’s a problem.

“The city should take the lead on this and look 30 years into the future. If we continue to water at 30 percent efficiency instead of 70, we’ll be in trouble,” Hayden said. “Now, we have a lot of questions with no answers.”

Gunter said they could have talked further and hammered out some of the details, but not all questions would have been answered.

“We’ll make sure we have a well-rounded stakeholder group and work out some of those details. We may have another COW meeting to discuss it,” Gunter said. “I think they were hoping it was a final draft and not a starting point, but it wasn’t close.”

Hayden will hold a town hall meeting that will include the subject at 10 a.m. this Saturday in the Green Room at the city’s Public Works Building at 815 Nicholas Parkway East.

The public is invited to attend.