Things you can do to help protect Florida's precious water supply

Easy, at-home tips can help environment

By Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - There are several things you can do both inside and outside your home that can help reduce the amount of water you use and to keep chemicals and other pollutants from affecting area lakes and waterways.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, long periods of rain or heavy downpours can saturate the ground, cause storm water retention ponds to overflow and lead to the flooding of yards and streets. That can cause sanitary sewer systems to overflow and spill into the environment. Conserving water is one way you can avoid an overflow.

Orange County has tips on how their residents can help conserve water at occonservewater.net.

Seminole County's Environmental Services Department has free water conservation items available to Seminole County residents and their offices.

Here's what you can do inside your home

Water Conservation Coordinator Debbie Meinert from Seminole County says low-flow showerheads and faucets can be used in both your bathrooms and kitchen to help reduce your water usage significantly. 

"The old ones used 7-10 gallons per minute," Meinert said. "So imagine people that take a 30-minute shower, they're wasting a lot of water." 

Meinert said something as simple as a shower timer can make a big difference, especially if you have kids.

"You have 5 minutes to get your shower done, it's almost like a game to them and it becomes part of their life," Meinert said.

Things like a toilet tummy, which is a plastic water bag that goes right in the tank of your commode, can also help.

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"That way it will displace 80 ounces of water every time you flush," Meinert said. "So if you can't afford a low-flow toilet, use a toilet tummy."

Another thing to drop in your toilet? A little blue dye tablet.

"Wait about 20 minutes, you see blue coming through the bowl, you have a leak,"  Meinert said.

She said a toilet leak probably means the flapper inside the toilet needs to be replaced and that is something you can pick up for free at their county office too.

Toilets can silently leak 150 gallons a day, or 55,000 gallons a year, according to the Seminole County website.

Here's what you can do outside your home

According to the Water Conservation department, in Seminole County, the drinking water is pumped from the groundwater below. But as more people move into both Seminole and other counties, the greater the demand on the water supply, which in turn can impact the area lakes and rivers. It can also lead to sinkholes, saltwater intrusion and decreased water quality.

Another tip, don't water your lawns or irrigate during the rainy season. If you would like to get an Irrigation Evaluation, you can click here for more information.

In February 2017, Seminole County Commissioners passed a new fertilizer ordinance. It regulates the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous during the rainy season in unincorporated sections of the county.

Fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus cannot be applied to grass between June 1 - Sept. 30. Fertilizer containing nitrogen that is used during Oct. 1-May 31 must containing at least 50 percent more slow-release nitrogen. Fertilizer containing phosphorus cannot be applied to grass or plants unless a state-certified soil or tissue test proves that there is a phosphorus deficiency.

Shannon Wetzel is a principal environmental scientist with Seminole County and said nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer can combine with the grass clippings and other vegetation to create a nutrient-rich environment that can act like plant food and suffocate area rivers and lakes. Algae will grow and keep growing as long as there is nitrogen and phosphorus available and that can lead to reduced water clarity, reduced oxygen in the water, and increased fish kills in the area.

"We want to be able to keep fishing in them, keep swimming in them keep recreating in them, and to do that we can all do our little small parts to maintain the health that they have and actually make them healthier," Wetzel said.

Seminole County recently put out several public service announcements to educate residents what to do to help keep the waterways clear of extra algae-creating nutrients. 

Here are a few tips:

Don't fertilize before a heavy rainstorm
Don't mow or apply fertilizer within 15 feet of any body of water
Mow your grass clippings back on your yard
Prevent oil leaks with regular maintenance on your car
Wash vehicles in the grass, not the pavement, to prevent runoff into storm drains
Check sprinkler heads and make sure they are aiming the water spray onto your yard, not the pavement
Don’t use your sprinklers when it is raining. 

Those living near area rivers, lakes and ponds are encouraged to take added measures.

"Plant native vegetation along your shoreline. That provides an even better filter for the runoff coming off of your yard," Wetzel said. "Some will even incorporate a little berm and swale area in their backyard to catch the runoff. That is another great way to filter the storm water runoff coming off of your yard if you are living along the lake edge."

Wetzel said it is a lot cheaper and easier to keep nutrients out of the waterways, than it is to treat them once they're overrun with extra vegetation. 

Wetzel said several Seminole County cities have also adopted the fertilizer ordinance and surrounding counties have also enacted their own fertilizer rules to help keep area lakes and rivers from getting overrun by algae blooms.

See Orange County fertilizer rules here.

Customers of Orange County Utilities also have some resources available to them at no cost, they are:

For in the home:

  • Faucet aerators
  • Shower heads
  • Up to $100 per toilet to replace high flow toilets with new high-efficiency ones

For outside the home:

  • Smart irrigation timers (must meet minimum qualifications)
  • Rain sensors
  • HE efficiency spray nozzles
  • Hose bib timers
  • Irrigation timer resets
  • Irrigation efficiency evaluations (for high use customers)
  • Irrigation system checks (for all irrigation customers)
  • Rain barrels for supplemental low volume irrigation
  • Classes to educate customers on latest water saving technologies and best management practices to maximize their homes water efficiency

Marion County officials offer free water conservation kits to Marion County Utilities customers, which include the following:

  • 2 low flow faucet aerators
  • 1 low flow shower head
  • 1 toilet tank or replacement flapper
  • leak detection dye tablets
  • water hose sprayer

Polk County has had a fertilizer ordinance since 2013. It states, in part, that no fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus shall be applied to urban landscapes if the National Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm warning or watch, flood warning, or watch tropical storm warning or watch, hurricane warning or watch, or heavy rain. Also, no fertilizer can be applied within 10 feet of any wetland. 

The following water conservation measures are available to qualifying residents:

  • Water Conservation Kits containing a low-flow showerhead, faucet aerators for kitchen and bath, toilet leak detector tabs, and more are available free of charge. 
  • Toilet Rebates both homes and businesses built in or before 1994 that currently have 3.5 (or more) gallon per flush toilets would qualify for this rebate. Limit 2 per home. Rebate is $75-$100 per toilet. The utility provider must be contacted before removal and installation. 
  • Rain Sensors free wireless rain sensors available if you currently have an automatic irrigation system. 
  • Smart Irrigation Controller Rebate for homes and businesses who use more than 15,000 gallons of water per month. A 75% rebate, up to $300 including installation. 
  • Landscape Retrofit Rebate for businesses, HOAs, and homes using more than 15,000 gallons of water per month. This rebate is approximately 75% (or up to $3,000) for those who agree to change out a minimum of 250 square feet of high water-use landscape and irrigation for Florida-Friendly™ plants and low-flow or no-flow irrigation. 
  • Landscape and Irrigation Evaluation for homes and businesses who use more than 15,000 gallons of water per month. Our contractor will replace your current rain sensor and lower your irrigation run times if necessary, review your plant and irrigation placement, check for breaks.

Not all of the programs listed above are available at all utilities. Please call your utility provider to confirm participation. This information and more is available at www.SavePolkWater.org.

Volusia County officials put a summertime fertilizer ban in place that began June 1. Read more about the ban here.

See Marion County's fertilizer ordinance here.

See Lake County fertilizer rules here.

Another great place to go for up to date water resource information is www.wateratlas.org. The Atlas serves as a one-stop data warehouse that has interactive graphs, tables, maps and graphics. It includes information for Lake, Seminole, Orange and Polk counties as well as several counties on Florida's west coast.
 

 

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