Has recent rain doused wildfire worries?

Rainfall seldom has been greeted so joyously in Martin County as in the past two weeks, but was it enough to break the drought here? Officials from the South Florida Water Management District say, “No.”

Although the regional rainfall total for March reached the historical average for the month in this area, the dry season deficit still stood at 6.57 inches through March 31, officials reported, and Lake Okeechobee remains more than two feet below normal levels, expecting to decline even further as summer temperatures take hold. Already, five navigation locks have been closed.

This drier-than-normal winter brought Hobe Sound residents a massive wildfire in December that turned the sky red as it burned several hundred acres, threatening homes in The Cottages and Tranquility developments on Bridge Road and destroying part of the Hobe Sound golf course. The fires, which required a joint effort between local fire departments and the Forestry Service to control, continued to smolder for more than a week, often blanketing the area with smoke and forcing residents indoors.

Other wildfires burned more than 16,000 acres in northern Brevard and southern Volusia counties, at times closing I-95 to traffic. Though the causes of many of the fires still are under investigation, officials point to the conditions present as the result of record-breaking freezes during the winter months coupled by the driest October-to-February in nearly 80 years.

And those tropical rains are not expected to alleviate water shortages on the Treasure Coast any earlier than June. As a result, the SFWMD issued water restrictions for both residential and commercial uses at the end of March.

“During this record-breaking dry season, these actions are critical to protect our region’s water resources,” said SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle, as she signed the water-restriction order. “This is a time for cooperation and shared adversity. The District will continue monitoring water levels to determine if additional actions are needed in the coming weeks for resource protection during the remainder of the dry season.”

The orders limit landscape irrigation to two days per week and require mandatory reductions in agricultural and other large water uses. The restrictions apply to all sources of water for irrigation including wells, canals, ponds and lakes. Landscape irrigation accounts for half of all drinking-water use in South Florida.

The water shortage orders, which went into effect on Saturday, March 26, include:

• A two-day-a-week schedule for residential landscape irrigation; watering is not allowed between 10am and 4pm. The restrictions do not apply to the City of Stuart, which maintains a two-day-a-week watering schedule year round.
• Car, boat and other vehicle washing is allowed, but residents should attach an adjustable spray or trigger nozzle to the hose and wash vehicles over a non-paved, grassy or porous area.
• A 15-percent cutback was ordered for all agricultural, nursery, and diversion and impoundment surface water users within the Lake Okeechobee Service Area.
• A 15-percent mandatory cutback for golf course irrigation was imposed in Okeechobee, St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.
• Cisterns and low-volume irrigation systems—such as drip, bubble and micro-jet systems that apply water directly to plant root zones—may be used at any time, although voluntary reductions are encouraged. Irrigation with reclaimed water is exempt.
• Additional watering days can only be used to benefit new landscaping, but an entire irrigation system zone may only be watered if it contains at least 50 percent new landscaping.

For further details on current water restrictions or for an application to request a variance, go to: www.sfwmd.gov/waterwatch.

Tips to conserve water and help prevent wildfires

• Get a rain gauge. One inch of rain per week is generally sufficient for lawns and gardens. Supplement only when rainfall is inadequate.
• Use mulch around landscape plantings to hold moisture in the soil.
• Remember that running a hose for one hour uses 375 gallons of water.
• Raise the height of the lawn mower blade to promote healthier grass with deeper roots.
• When watering is necessary, water slowly and thoroughly. If you notice puddles or runoff, turn off the water and wait for it to soak in.
• Clear flammable vegetation from the vicinity of your home and you can reduce the risk of destruction by wildfire as much as 70 percent.

FIREWISE workshop slated here
A free workshop, “FIREWISE…The Wildfire Threat is High Near Hobe Sound,” is designed to inform residents as to how to protect their home, community and firefighters. The workshop, which is Saturday, April 16, from 1-3:30pm, includes interactive presentations, videos and talks by local fire experts, also free educational materials at the Hobe Sound Public Library. An added bonus is free refreshments. For more information, call Elise Cassie at 352.359.0722, and to register, call Lynn Warner at the Martin County Library System, 772.219.4975 or go to fireinflorida.org/firewise-community-workshops.