In our last update in early April, we reported on the steps we were taking to determine the cause of the low-pressure issues you, our reclaimed water customers, were experiencing. Our efforts included logging and mapping the complaints we received. Crews were sent to those areas, as well as to the major transmission mains, to determine if there was any kind of issue or leak that would account for the low-pressure.
What did we find? The physical integrity of the distribution system was solid. A couple of small leaks were found, but nothing in the system explained why our reclaimed water customers were experiencing such low pressure that their irrigation systems were inoperable.
Initially, we were able to point to mechanical issues at our Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility that would explain the reduced service our reclaimed water customers were experiencing. However, repairs and replacements have been made and normal operation has resumed at the plant.
So, what is the answer? At this time, we can only conclude that due to the extremely dry weather we experienced earlier this spring, the actions of some of our reclaimed water users has adversely affected the amount of reclaimed water available to the other reclaimed water users. Unfortunately, when it is dry some reclaimed water customers start watering their yards more often than allowed by our irrigation restrictions. Their over-use depletes the supply of reclaimed water available to other users. Homeowner Associations that require high-water use turf such as St. Augustine or demand a specific level of "green turf" only exacerbate the problem.
Research shows that Florida homeowners use significantly more than the national average of thirty percent of their total water use on irrigation. In some counties, that percentage can grow to sixty or seventy percent. A recent publication (AE585 How Much Water Am I Using to Irrigate My Yard) by the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, UF/IFAS Extension, noted that research on Florida homeowners showed that at the recommended ½” irrigation depth the minimum water use per irrigation event is approximately 991 gallons, but that a typical system could use more than double this conservative estimate.
One irrigation cycle, using 991 gallons of water, is equal to any one of the following:
Gallons Used per Instance
Gallons Used Per Instance
2 gallons per minute
495 minutes (8.25 hours)
5 gallons per flush
1.28 gallons per flush
2.5 gallons per minute
396 minutes (6.6 hours)
2 gallons per minute
495 minutes (8.25)
Traditional clothes washer
54 gallons per load
High efficiency clothes washer
27 gallons per load
20 gallons per load
Reclaimed water is treated sewage effluent, which means it started out as sewage and is treated to be “reused” for irrigation. The amount of reclaimed water we have to distribute is based on the flow of sewage we receive. As noted in previous updates and in the table above, the amount of sewage generated per home is much smaller than the amount of reclaimed water used per home every time a sprinkler system comes on. There is a limited supply of sewage, which limits the supply of reclaimed water.
When people do not follow the irrigation restrictions and irrigate more than two times a week, they are using reclaimed water someone else could have used. Most of the time, the fact that there is a limited supply of reclaimed water is not obvious to our customers. However, that limit becomes obvious when we do not have rain. Lack of rain causes people to water too much and too often when their turf begins to brown or their flowers wilt.
Instead of turning on the water, homeowners should turn on their creativity by trying to make their yards more drought tolerant and their irrigation more effective. Expanding plant beds and adding native and Florida-friendly plants and trees will reduce your water needs, while creating natural berms and plant layers will keep more of your irrigation on your property. Replacing broken sprinkler heads and adjusting your irrigation system so that you irrigate green areas, not driveways, streets, and sidewalks will increase your irrigation system’s efficiency.