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Cape discusses water conservation initiatives

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Feb 16, 2024

The city of Cape Coral is looking at ways to conserve water and protect the city’s aquifers.

Increasing fines for water violations, limiting pool size, and having homeowners hire a third-party company to fill and refill pools were among the discussion topics.

City staff provided a presentation called Northeast Cape Coral Potential Water Conservation Measures with Cape Coral City Council providing staff with additional direction.

The boundaries of the Southwest Florida Water Management District water shortage are the west boundary for Nelson Road, east boundary of Northeast 24th Avenue, north boundary of Gator Slough and south boundary of Pine Island Road.

Utilities Director Jeff Pearson said private wells are among the issues.

There were eight potential initiatives to mitigate further Mid-Hawthorn Aquifer decline that were shared during Wednesday’s workshop.

The ones that gained the most traction were accelerating the 2023 Conservation Ordinance enactment and increased fines for water violations.

“I would be supportive of A, accelerate conservation ordinance. That would be an easy one to implement if the need arises,” Councilmember Keith Long said, adding that it would be proactive in getting ahead of water depletion.

Councilmember Bill Steinke said with fines it should be a second occurrence increase, which other council members agreed.

Another that gained some traction was for homeowners to hire a third party to fill or refill a swimming pool.

The initial mitigation provided by Pearson was cap on the size of swimming pools, as they are a big source of water usage. One of the options was having shallower pools.

Another suggestion came from Councilmember Dan Sheppard in regard to educating property buyers in the area that there may be the possibility of water issues. He said they are not telling people not to build, but rather being transparent that there might be an issue.

“That’s a great suggestion,” Pearson said. “We will see about potentially doing that during the permitting process.”

The Southwest Florida Water Management District requires compliance with the city’s once a week watering schedule that went into effect on Nov. 28, 2023, for residents on private MHA (Mid-Hawthorn Aquifer) wells for outdoor irrigation.

“I don’t want to put a restriction on any homeowner unless I am 100% that there is a need there,” Mayor John Gunter said. “We have only applied these restrictions for 10 weeks now. Let the data steer us in the direction we need to go. I don’t want to do something prematurely. If the data shows we have to go a different course, I am all for it.”

City Manager Michael Ilczyszyn said it is possible they may need to do an amendment for the ordinance with a 30-day notice to the industry as soon as April.

He said if they do nothing, then the Southwest Florida Management District has the hammer.

“They can turn around and say no irrigation permit allowed period,” he said.

Ilczyszyn said they have to make sure with everything they are trying to do that they do not end up with a city inside of a city.

“That whole sector of the city is different from everywhere else until they have water and sewer,” he said.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden said they should approach this with a sense of urgency.

“We got lucky this season. It’s not going to be like that all the time,” she said of the rain. “Even if we did all the initiatives, we wouldn’t see any impacts on this chart for several years. The ordinance and increased fines would give us a small change. Everything else would not be instantaneous.”

Cosden said they are planning for years in the future, and they should be looking at incentives rather than requirements.