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Manatee County burn ban remains despite rain in forecast


A map from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the drought conditions for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
A map from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the drought conditions for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Courtesy image
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Rainy season began on June 1 in Florida and after a week brought a few showers but not enough to combat the dry conditions Southwest Florida has been experiencing. 

The Southwest Florida Water Management District reported rainfall of less than an inch in May for its southern region, which includes Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee and Highlands counties.

The normal range of rainfall for May in the region is anywhere between 2.21 and 5.16 inches. 

Manatee County imposed a burn ban from June 3 to June 10, and that was extended by commissioners on June 10 through June 17.

“There’s been an increased volume of calls for wildland fires,” East Manatee Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Paul Wren said. “We’re advising everyone to adhere to the burn ban. Right now, there’s enough out in nature alone that will undoubtedly spark and cause fires that we have to respond to.”

In Manatee County, the wildland-urban Interface is generally located east of Panther Ridge toward Myakka City. The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences defines a wildland-urban interface as “a place where built structures intermix with natural areas.”

This chart shows a 24-year history of droughts in Manatee County.
Courtesy image

Over the past two weeks, Wren said the fire rescue has averaged between two to five responses a day. Because of how dry everything is, fires start easier and spread more rapidly. 

Even though East County saw some showers after the burn ban was put in place, Wren said it hasn’t been enough to saturate the area and mitigate the fire danger. 

Director of Public Safety Jodie Fiske said the week of June 10 was expected to bring 8-12” of rain. 

“We’re not sure if it’s going to be steady rainfall or quick downpours, so we want to make sure we’re doing our due diligence to keep this burn ban in effect,” she told commissioners at the emergency meeting on June 10.

The dry conditions can be seen in the aquifers underground, too. The Regional Aquifer Resource Index was at 29 at the end of May. Less than 25 is considered below normal. 

“Declining aquifer percentile values provide an indicator that water levels in the aquifer are dropping,” said Susanna Martinez Tarokh, Public Information Officer for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “This is important, as aquifer water levels can affect the amount of groundwater that water users can pump for their water use needs.”

The entire district is under a Modified Phase I Water Shortage through July 1, which prohibits “wasteful and unnecessary” water use, such as hosing down a driveway when a broom would suffice. 

The U.S. Drought Monitor cites excessive heat in May as a contributing factor to a worsening drought. Only the northeast portion of Manatee County remains classified as a “moderate drought.” The Drought Monitor has the rest of the county classified under a “severe drought.” 

 

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Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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