South Florida lawns and gardens face the prospect of year-round watering limits, but new rules would allow the sprinklers to keep firing on greens and fairways.
The South Florida Water Management District takes aim at landscaping in its plan for permanent twice-a-week watering restrictions, but exempts athletic fields and golf courses.
The district contends that golf courses, agriculture and other large water users have caps and systems in place to discourage wasteful watering, while homeowners typically drench their lawns.
"We tend to grossly over-irrigate our lawns," said Jesus Rodriguez, the district's water conservation officer. "That is really where we see the wasteful water habits."
Frank Ruffolo, of Sunrise, said he understands the need to cut back on lawn watering, but said that should apply to golf courses and other water-thirsty businesses as well.
"We need to get a handle on water usage or we will run out," Ruffolo said.
The past two years combined to be the driest on record, and Lake Okeechobee, South Florida's primary backup water supply, remains 3 feet below normal.
Concerns about the lake's aging dike prompted the Army Corps of Engineers in 2006 to lower the lake in anticipation of what was forecast to be a busy hurricane season. Instead, a record drought followed.
That led to emergency watering restrictions that have ranged from limits of three days a week to one day a week, depending on the up-and-down conditions.
The district now proposes shifting from drought-induced restrictions to a year-round, twice-a-week watering limit in line with rules in central and northeastern Florida. The proposal is scheduled to go back before the district's board in September, with plans to put the rules in place before the end of the year.
The district estimates that the lower east coast of Florida, from Palm Beach County to the Keys, uses 1.1 billion gallons of water a day with about 72 percent going to urban supplies.
Up to half that urban supply — about 396 million gallons a day — is used for landscape irrigation, according to the district.
Golf courses use about 2.3 percent — 18.2 million gallons a day — of the urban supply, Rodriguez said.
Golf course water permits come with caps for how much water can be used each year, he said.
During the drought, golf courses have to provide monthly reports showing the district that they have met cutback requirements.
That doesn't mean golf courses should get to dodge the proposed year-round rules, Linda Giles, of Pompano Beach, said.
"That is our drinking water," Giles said.
Course superintendents contend that permitting requirements and technological improvements such as computerized irrigation systems allow them to keep a tighter control on how much water they use.
Over-watering hurts the playing surface and makes the course more susceptible to fungus and pests, said Brian Main, superintendent of the Aberdeen Golf and Country Club west of Boynton Beach.
"We get a tenth of an inch of rain and I won't water that night," Main said. "If you could educate the average homeowner to do the same thing, we wouldn't be in this situation."
The St. Augustine grass of many South Florida lawns can adapt to twice-a-week watering, but the fine Bermuda grass on golf courses doesn't have roots deep enough to make it, said Kevin Downing, president of the Palm Beach County Golf Course Superintendents Association. Using more recycled wastewater could be the irrigation answer for neighborhoods and golf courses alike, but it will take time and money to lay those pipes.
In the meantime, it would help if South Florida golfers and course operators adjusted their expectations to the tall grass and rougher conditions on display each year at the British Open, Downing said.
"But then the Masters appears in April and it's as green and lush as you can imagine," Downing said.
Andy Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-228-5504.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun