How Does SWFWMD Save Potable Water by Restricting Lawn Irrigation With Well Water?


By Rick Orr 03/23/2013
A sprinkler head watering a lawn
Self supplied irrigation system does not waste water, it recycles water

Why Lawns are Beneficial

I have traveled to Mexico, India, Central and South America and took notice of the lack of lawns. The city sidewalks, streets, businesses, parks and roads in these third world countries were surrounded by bare, dusty patches of soil. Only the very rich had a lawn – usually just a small patch of green grass. When the wind blew you turned your side to the wind, bowed your head and closed your eyes to reduce the impact of the dust-filled air. With bare soil everywhere, a day of adventure and exploring a dusty city brings burning eyes, filthy clothes, a clogged nose, wheezy breathing, and a hacking cough.

The Green Green Grass of Home

We are so fortunate to live in a country where lawns are part of the poorest neighborhoods. We are a nation of lawns, grassy roadsides, green pastures and lush green parks. A country covered with healthy lawns providing a biological filter for wind and rain as well as catching and recycling every grain of dust, pollen and soot that gets trapped in the canopy. We live in a country where a day of adventure and exploring may be exhausting but it is pleasant to the eyes and easy on the lungs – thanks to the green, green grass of home.

No Water – No Lawn

But without water, a Pinellas lawn will soon wither and die leaving the ugly bare soil at the mercy of the wind and rain. To prevent this, most lawn owners have invested in wells and irrigation systems that are economical and effective for keeping a lawn healthy. And the overall damage to the environment from all this “lawn growing” is insignificant but the gains in human health and welfare and the protection of the environment are exponential.

Without irrigation being supplied to lawns and landscape, Clearwater, St Petersburg, Largo, Seminole and the tourist places on the beach would be a dusty third world city like Pune, India, Managua, Nicaragua or Pachuca, Mexico

So Why Restrict Lawn Watering?

If lawns are so beneficial and irrigation critical, why does SWFWMD restrict the use of self-supplied irrigation for lawns and landscapes? I recently wrote SWFWMD to find out the answer to this question. Their answer is simple: To reduce the use of potable water, they restrict ALL irrigation.

The reason SWFWMD enforces a blanket restriction on all irrigation is for “practical considerations” described as:

  • Ease of Education
  • Ease of Enforcement
  • Improve the Effectiveness of the restrictions on potable demand

In other words, the softer and easier way to reduce potable water usage is to turn off everybody's irrigation and transform Pinellas County into a dusty brown third-world city. They even acknowledge that fact but they consider the ends justify the means.

Do the Restrictions Work?

Do the restrictions reduce potable water usage? SWFWMD does not know - they do not measure such things. They only have their logical reasoning to justify their actions. And their logic is deeply flawed.

Reduction in potable water usage would occur if people “typically” used potable water for irrigation. But they don’t! The fact is few people use potable water for irrigation because of the cost – the money you would spend to irrigate a small lawn with potable water would pay for a well and pump in a few months. Few people keep using potable water after their first $500 water bill. In my experience, of the more than 1000’s of lawns I have serviced, less than 0.10% use potable water for lawn watering.

Why Hot Dry Weather Equals More Potable Water Usage

The higher demand for potable water during hot dry weather is likely because people use more water during hot dry weather. People fill pools, birdbaths, kiddie pools, run water toys, slip and slides, take more showers, wash more clothes, and drink more Kool-Aid,  sweet tea and water.

Do Blanket Restrictions Make Education and Enforcement Easier?

The blanket restrictions do make SWFWMD’s job a little easier. Education and enforcement is simple and easy - just tell everyone they can’t water their lawn. No need for complicated rules and levels of enforcement. So they sacrificed your lawn, so they (people you pay with your tax money) can have an easier workload while reducing the problem by less than 0.10%.

The blanket restrictions also “grease the squeaky wheel” making SWFWMD’s job easier. Some would peer out their window to see if their neighbor is wasting water by lawn watering. Upon seeing their neighbor wasting water, they call the authorities to report a “water waster”. Granted it is very difficult to educate the busy-body neighbor that watering with a self-supplied irrigation system is not wasting water. It is easier to just give the “water wasting” neighbor a fine for watering their lawn and walk away and let the courts enforce your rules.

Punishing the Innocent

Blanket restrictions punish the innocent. I have a lawn and a self-supplied irrigation system. While my self-supplied irrigation system may be used more in hot dry months, my monthly potable water usage has remained the same over the years. I do not waste potable water – it is too expensive.

How to Reduce Potable Water Usage

If they wanted to reduce potable water demand they could easily determine who is wasting water by monitoring usage. After all, they have a meter on every house. How hard can it be to see who is using water for restricted uses like watering a lawn? Develop a computer a program that looks for people who have a significant increase in water usage. Then bust them for lawn watering or not repairing that leaky pool or illegal car washing. Leave those who are not wasting potable water alone!

Help Fight Back

I have talked to many homeowners over the years about the water restrictions. Often the reply is “What can we do? They are a powerful government agency and I’m just a homeowner.” They feel helpless, powerless and oppressed. SWFWD has used its powers and authority to unilaterally keep the homeowners from watering their lawn with a self-supplied irrigation system for no other reason than their own comfort.

There is no reason our lawns should die so the powers to be at SWFWMD can have an easy day – let's turn up the volume and become the squeaky wheel. If we want to win the right to water our lawns with self-supplied irrigation systems we need to fight back and make blanket restrictions more uncomfortable than other choices. Email, blog, repost this post on Facebook, tweet this information to everyone you know, to government authorities and encourage them to do likewise. You can start with SWFWMD:  [email protected] .


Rick Orr Owner-Operator APL Pest Control/Creator of ILOVETURF.COM
APL Pest Control

Since 1995, Rick Orr has worked in Pinellas County providing turf management and pest control. Rick Orr is a graduate of VA Tech in Agronomy (Turf Ecology) and the creator of

Since graduating from VA Tech in 1979, Rick worked in the green industry, mostly with golf courses, resorts, and large communities. Rick has obtained certifications in arboriculture, landscape contractor, and irrigation contractor, and taught Environmental Horticulture at St Petersburg College. 

Currently, Rick is the owner and operator of APL Pest Control. APL Pest Control provides lawn care and pest control for all of Pinellas County.

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