Pinellas County Extension aims to reduce water pollution

05/17/10 Andrea Lypka
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Lakefront residents Harold Der Garabedian from Seminole and Marianne Carter from Clearwater share a common problem: invasive weeds that choke up their lakes.

“I have been there for 42 years and it’s a beautiful lake. I want to keep it that way,” said Der Garabedian. He wants to control the Alligator Weed that takes over Lazy Lake by his house.

“Over the past 16 years that we have been there, the pond has died,” Carter said. "We don’t have the turtles we had and we don’t have fish at all anymore. We are trying to find out what I can do to bring it back. I am finding out that there is a lot more information out there that is going to help us.”

While attendees like Der Garabedian and Carter got advice on sustainable landscaping at the annual Lakes and Ponds Education Day on May 15, few residents were aware about the growing trend of water waste. Floridians use seven billion gallons of water a day, said Kelli Levy, Division Director of the Watershed Management Program from Pinellas County.

“What can we do as residents to reduce that demand? That is a lot of water, we look at the droughts that we get into and what legacy are we leaving for the future. We need to find ways to save our water,” Levy said.

According to Kelli Levy, Floridians pump one billion gallons of water onto their lawns and another three billion gallons of water for household use. While 10 years ago Florida did not face water shortage and substandard water quality, the situation is different now.

“As a local government we are responsible for it, we have to take measures to get those nutrients below those standards. 74 percent of the county’s waters are in the high category. So we need to do something about it,” she said.

Besides stricter fertilization regulations, local communities also can make a difference, said Doris Heitzmann, Community Associations Outreach Coordinator at the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program in Pinellas County.

“We are all connected and I think we can all contribute a little bit at least and start thinking about Florida friendly yards,” Heitzmann said. "I really would like to get people excited about different types of landscapes.”

Poor landscaping practices not only pollute the environment but they are costing taxpayers. Levy said that water quality improvements at the county’s second largest lake, Lake Seminole, are estimated to reach $30 million between 2006 and 2015.

To reduce water pollution, residents are advised to use 50% slow release fertilizer products during the non-rainy season and to leave a 10-foot pesticide- and fertilizer-free zone around the water bodies. Most county extension offices offer workshops on Florida-friendly landscaping and proper fertilization procedures for residents.

For more information, contact: * Pinellas County Extension * Hillsborough County Extension

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