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East County Wednesday, Jun. 24, 2009 11 years ago

Aquatic Explanation

by: Pam McTeer

LAKEWOOD RANCH — In just one day last week, Ryan Heise’s office fielded four phone calls about sprinklers running off-hours at the intersection of The Masters Avenue and Legacy Boulevard.

The Lakewood Ranch residents who called were concerned — some angry — that water would be running in the middle of the day and for no apparent reason.

But the issue is far more complex than it appears on the surface.

“It’s a common complaint,” said Heise, director of operations for Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. “(Residents) are seeing water, but they have to understand a number of things as to why (they are seeing water).”

Ultimately, the Southwest Florida Water Management District regulates how frequently yards in the Lakewood Ranch can be watered. And using those guidelines, Braden River Utilities has dictated the watering schedule for the residential properties and common areas in Lakewood Ranch, Heise said.

Homeowners in each neighborhood are assigned one day each week — sometime between midnight and 10 a.m. — to water their yards. The district must water specified areas between 4 p.m. and midnight on their respective days.

“Not everybody can water at once,” Heise said. “They break it up so the pressure is there when it’s their watering turn. We’ve had a lot of issues with the pressure not being there.

“We have to play by the same rules as everybody else,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but we try.”
Complying with the schedule helps ensure each home has the appropriate amount of water pressure. Failing to do so can result in a fine for residents.
Test time
So if Lakewood Ranch’s watering schedule starts after 4 p.m., then why would residents ever see sprinklers running during the middle of the day?

Simply put, if water is running off-schedule, then some sort of maintenance is occurring, Heise said.

Lakewood Ranch’s district irrigation areas alone include 1,558 watering zones with an average of 25 sprinkler heads in each.  That’s more than 38,000 water delivery points in operation.

The landscaping contractors are responsible for ensuring each sprinkler head is operating correctly. To do so, they are allowed to test them once a week during the day after the area has been mowed.

Contractors are supposed to be on-site for the duration of testing, but sometimes they aren’t. As in the scenario at The Masters Avenue and Legacy Boulevard, for example, contractors had applied a fungicide that needed to be watered in. However, the contractor had not informed Town Hall of the treatment and did not have a worker present as prescribed by its contract.

Heise said he has been working to improve communication between contractors and the district so residents aren’t left wondering why water is running. But if residents do see sprinklers going off without a worker present, they should contact his office.

“There needs to be a fact-based reason for watering,” Heise said.

Contractors are required to monitor watering and face financial penalties for failing to comply with requirements.

Heise also said Swiftmud has an open invitation to come and check Lakewood Ranch’s controls on its irrigation system.
When it pours …
When it rains, it doesn’t always pour. Heise knows the scenario well.

Having sprinklers going go off during a rain shower does raise eyebrows throughout the community and even earns a few snickers.

But, Heise said he has one shot each week to make sure the common lawn areas in Lakewood Ranch get three-fourths of an inch of water. If the plants don’t get at least that much, they will die and have to be replaced — a scenario that uses more water and ultimately costs residents more money.

“The summer rains are really unpredictable,” Heise said. “If you miss your watering opportunity because of a light rain event, then you are in trouble.”

Most of the Ranch’s district irrigation devices have rain sensors that automatically turn sprinklers off after the ground gets one-half inch of water.  Until then, the sprinklers keep running. And although thousands of watering devices are controlled by a central control that allows the district staff to stop watering, about 60 are battery operated and must be turned off manually during rain showers. 

Although lawn watering is restricted to one day a week, the district and homeowners are allowed to use micro-irrigation to water mulched landscaped areas at least two to three times a week at specific times, Heise said.

Because long stretches of roadway such as Lakewood Ranch Boulevard have so many different watering areas, it can appear that certain locations are watered more frequently than they actually are.

Exceptions to watering restrictions also exist for the district and homeowners. For example, when new turf is planted, watering is allowed daily for the first 15 days.

Sometimes the watering issue doesn’t even involve Lakewood Ranch’s operations. For example, some properties in the community — Lakewood Ranch Main Street, landscapes at commercial shopping centers and a tract outside Country Club West, to name a few — are not maintained by Lakewood Ranch’s operations.
Central command
Starting in October, Lakewood Ranch signed contracts with two landscaping companies — Mainscapes and Garden Leaders — and contractually charged them for maintaining the vigor and appearance of the district’s landscapes as well as tending to its roughly 38,000 water delivery points.

The change hasn’t fixed every communication problem between contractors and Lakewood Ranch, but it has yielded significant improvement, especially considering each community development district used to have up to eight landscaping contractors, Heise said.

Heise also said the district is moving toward developing a central command for irrigation in which all controllers would be interfaced using the Internet.  Doing so would allow operations staff to see electrical problems or failures in the irrigation system remotely.

Lakewood Ranch also is making a move toward using soil moisture sensor technology, he said.

Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].


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