Three Palm Beach County cities face tougher watering rules due to drought

Lake Okeechobee’s continued water level decline is expected to trigger new once-a-week landscape irrigation limits for West Palm Beach water customers.

The switch to stricter watering rules for homes and businesses would also apply to the town of Palm Beach and the town of South Palm Beach, which get water from West Palm Beach.

Most of South Florida has been under twice-a-week watering limits since March due to water supply strains.

While most communities pump their water from below ground, West Palm Beach draws its water from Clear Lake, Lake Mangonia and Grassy Waters Preserve. The city relies on Lake Okeechobee to backup its water supplies.

Last weekend, Lake Okeechobee dropped to the point where it can no longer be counted on for back-up water deliveries.

The South Florida Water Management District board meets Thursday and will be asked to approve the new once-a-week watering limits for West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach. The new rules would begin Monday.

The rest of South Florida is expected to remain under twice-a-week landscape watering, though the district board can also opt for stricter limits throughout its 16-county region that stretches from Orlando to the Keys.

Since October, South Florida rainfall has been more than 10 inches below normal, straining water supplies and prompting emergency watering cutbacks.

The usual summer rainy cycle has yet to materialize to bring relief.

Environmental advocates for months have been calling for stricter landscape watering limits to help stretch supplies.

About half of South Florida’s public water supply ends up getting used for landscape irrigation.

The lingering drought coupled with past water management decisions have dried out more than half of the Everglades water conservation areas and dropped Lake Okeechobee to its lowest level since 2008.

Aside from straining community water supplies, Lake Okeechobee’s continued decline threatens the survival of the endangered Everglades snail kite.

The snail kites rely on the marshes rimming Lake Okeechobee for their primary food source, the apple snail.

Declining lake levels mean that more than 80 percent of that snail kite habitat has dried out, triggering the endangered birds to start abandoning the few nests that remain.

The Everglades snail kite population declined from 3,000 to 700 during the past decade.

Audubon of Florida has opposed the water management district’s plan to keep pumping water out of Lake Okeechobee to help irrigate sugar cane fields and other agricultural fields to the south.

On Wednesday, Lake Okeechobee was 9.81 feet above sea level – about 2 feet below normal and more than 4 feet below this time last year.

During 2007, Lake Okeechobee dropped to its all-time low of 8.82 feet above sea level and the district temporarily imposed once-a-week watering limits for all of South Florida.

Under the new once-a-week watering rules proposed for West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach:

Addresses ending in odd numbers would be allowed to water on Wednesday’s between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Addresses ending in even numbers would be allowed to water on Thursday’s between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Hand watering would be permitted on allowable watering days for 10 minutes between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Like elsewhere in South Florida, the watering rules also include irrigation systems that draw water from wells, neighborhood lakes and canals.  

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