By Tim O’Meilia
South Palm Beach now has two water problems: too much salty ocean water from the east and not enough treated water from the west.
While erosion from the ocean has been an ongoing concern, a dwindling supply of water for drinking and lawn sprinkling has cropped up with the continuing drought that began in October.
As a result, the town’s 28 condominiums and four single-family homes and the Town Hall have been placed on severe water-use restrictions by the city of West Palm Beach, which supplies potable water for the town and for neighboring Palm Beach.
Beginning June 13, West Palm Beach officials limited lawn watering to four hours a week. Buildings with odd-numbered addresses may water from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. Wednesdays. Even-number buildings may water the same hours on Thursdays.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of Palm Beach County and South Florida are on a two-day-per-week watering schedule with 36 total hours of sprinkling allowed.
The reason is that West Palm Beach is the only water utility that relies on surface water — Lake Okeechobee — for its water rather than on a well system.
The water level in the lake is so low that the lake can no longer feed the L8 canal, the starting point of the 40-mile journey the city’s water travels from the lake to the Grassy Waters Preserve, the city’s water catchment area. The water then moves to Clear Lake and Lake Mangonia before it reaches the nearby water treatment plant.
City utility officials told city commissioners that the system could run dry of water in 22 days. To avoid that, West Palm Beach plans to buy water from Palm Beach County and draw from a city well field to ease the crisis.
The city also asked state environmental officials for permission to tap the L-8 reservoir. Approval was given so long as the city is able to keep salt levels low enough to meet state standards.
South Palm Beach officials have sent faxes to all the condominiums and erected several yellow, “severe drought” warning signs at the north and south entrances to town along A1A, said Police Chief Roger Crane.
The town also is supplying door-hangers to condominiums to ask residents to conserve water. The town’s local access television channel — Channel 95 — and the town website list the restrictions.
Mayor Donald Clayman said his condominium, Southgate, had already received a warning notice from the police, who enforce the restrictions in the town. “We hadn’t been able to switch our timer yet,” he said.
Initially, there was some confusion about which days to water. Multi-unit buildings that have more than one address must water on Thursdays. But that wasn’t spelled out in the West Palm Beach notice. None of the town’s buildings have more than one address, so the rule does not apply, Crane said.
The chief said residents also were concerned about washing their cars, which often become encrusted with ocean salt spray. Car washing is allowed on porous areas only, but few condominiums have space for that.
Town officials were uncertain about the fine schedule for violators. West Palm Beach allows one warning then a subsequent violation draws a $75 fine, a second violation is $125 and the third or more cost $500.
Crane said the town would abide by the South Florida Water Management District fine schedule, but the water district leaves the fines for residential violations up to the individual municipality.
South Palm Beach watering
• Odd-numbered addresses from 4 to 8 a.m. Wednesdays.
• Even-numbered addresses 4 to 8 a.m. Thursdays.
• Hand-watering with a single hose of stressed plants is allowed for 10 minutes daily on the scheduled watering day.
• Vehicle is allowed on porous surfaces only.
• New landscaping may be watered at any time on the day it is installed; 4-8 a.m. on any day except Friday for two to 30 days after it is installed; and 4-8 a.m. on any day except Sunday, Tuesday and Friday from 31 to 90 days after it’s installed.
Source: City of West Palm Beach
South County municipalities
• Odd-numbered addresses, before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays.
• Even-numbered addresses, or sites with no street address, before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays.
• Landscape irrigation using reclaimed water is not restricted.
• Vehicle and boat washing is allowed anytime.
• Golf courses must cut usage by 15 percent.
Source: South Florida Water Management District