Sebastian leaders wary of water district’s proposed new rules

SEBASTIAN — Sebastian city leaders expressed concern over proposed new rules that the water management district will be discussing in a week and possibly be approving.

The St. Johns River Water Management District wants to force local governments into enforcing the district’s landscaping irrigation water restrictions. It currently “strongly recommends” governments do so. Councilman Don Wright brought up the matter at a recent council meeting, telling his fellow members that he believes the district, which is made up of appointed members, feels it has the right to set the rules for local government.

“I find this to be extremely objectionable,” he said, later adding, “I think these people have gone well beyond their charges.”

For the district’s part, it says the Florida Legislature has given it the “exclusive preemptive authority” to regulate the use of water.

The water management district put into effect last year once weekly watering restrictions for landscaping and asked local governments to adopt the policy. Some did, others, like Sebastian, did not.

At the time, the city felt its restrictions went far enough to conserve water and further restrictions were unnecessary. Enforcement, too, would be an issue due to limited staffing.

City Attorney Richard Ginsburg was tasked at the council meeting to review St. Johns River Water Management District’s proposal and draft a letter of comment to send in time for the district’s March 8 workshop and March 9 meeting.

He said after the meeting that because the city has one water use ordinance and St. Johns has another, the city cannot enforce its own water rules due to the conflict for fear of the residents getting caught between the two entities.

Wright said that the district’s move to force local governments to enact the new rules is a way to shift the cost burden of enforcement off the district.

The district itself has said that it does not have “sufficient resources to ensure compliance with the rule” throughout its entire 18-county area.

Both Wright and Councilman Eugene Wolff said the district’s plans further burden the residents, as well.

Wolff called residents an “easy target” for the water management district, adding that the district looks to the residents’ goodness and desire to help when it sets restrictive water policies.

“St. Johns has relied much too much on squeezing the private resident property owner,” Wright said, adding that the district seems focused solely on conservation rather than on establishing alternative water sources or retention.

Councilwoman Andrea Coy expressed support of the district’s water restrictions, though she said she was concerned about the district forcing the city to enforcing the rules.

“I think it’s important for this city and every city that is in the district – we should all be in compliance,” Coy said.

The councilwoman later added that while she does not want to see the city lose its ability to govern itself, she believes the city should have adopted St. Johns water rules when they were first proposed.

While the City of Sebastian is not enforcing its landscape irrigation ordinance or the water district’s, City Attorney Ginsburg said residents could following the district’s rules without fear of receiving a citation for the city’s code enforcement officers.

He also said that residents who follow what had been the city’s rules would not get a ticket from the city, though enforcers from St. Johns River Water Management District might issue a citation.

Those who wish to irrigate their lawns without worrying about citations can follow the district’s watering schedule:

During Daylight Saving Time:

Odd-Numbered Homes: Wednesday/Saturday

Even-Numbered Homes: Thursday/Sunday

Non-Residential Properties: Tuesday/Friday

During Eastern Standard Time:

Odd-Numbered Homes: Saturday

Even-Numbered Homes: Sunday

Non-Residential Properties: Tuesday

Daylight saving time: Second Sunday in March until the first Sunday in NovemberEastern Standard Time: First Sunday in November until the second Sunday in MarchWater only when needed and not between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.Water for no more than one hour per zone.Restrictions apply to private wells and pumps, ground or surface water and water from public and private utilities.

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