OUC hires water cops: For 1st time, Orlando utility is sending out sprinkler patrols
Dave DeVito, left, talks with homeowner Fred Hedges about his water usage. His timer was not on the proper days, and DeVito helped him correct it. (George Skene, Orlando Sentinel)
The end of daylight saving time marks the start of a four-month period when lawn irrigation is limited by state authorities to once a week.
As the region's biggest water user — supplying nearly 80 million gallons a day to about 425,000 residents — OUC has long stood out as being lax on sprinkler scofflaws.
The crackdown is being done as a service and a favor to city residents, utility spokesman Timothy Trudell said.
"I think most people out there want to save on their utility bills, and we're going to try to help as many of those people as we can," Trudell said.
Watering grass can be costly, but not just because of the water bill.
OUC charges its customers in Orlando $18.41 for 10,000 gallons a month. For using that amount of water, the city tacks on an additional $55.18 for sewage charges.
Reducing the monthly use of water to 7,000 gallons, for example, will result in an OUC bill of $13.67 and a city of Orlando sewage charge of $43.48.
The tickets that OUC water cops will issue are printed with the check-off categories of "First Notice," "Second Notice" and "Final Notice."
But it's a bluff: While other utilities typically fine flagrant offenders, OUC's ultimate recourse is only more warnings.
"We don't have enforcement authority," Trudell said. "By law, we can't fine somebody, and we're not trying to."
While owned by the city, OUC has its own governing board and is not a department of city government, which means the utility is not tied directly to a code-enforcement office.
Even so, Trudell said, OUC could — but doesn't want to — work with the city and Orange County to levy fines against violators who are written up many times.
Orange County, by comparison, has relied on water patrols for nearly a decade.
Since January, county water cops have written about 600 warnings a month. The county also has mailed $25 tickets to about 50 to 60 repeat offenders each month.
"We're not in this to make a profit," said Jacqueline Torbert, manager of Orange County's water division. "We're trying to change habits."
Trudell said the water cops are employees of East Central Florida RC&D, a consultant that specializes in agricultural and water services. OUC will pay the company $79,000 for a year's worth of patrols at a minimum of 40 hours a week.
While establishing patrol routes, the water cops wrote 99 warnings last week and 90 this week.
Trudell said OUC was surprised by those counts, given that last month had far more rain than normal.
Don Brandes, a resource manager at the St. Johns River Water Management District, which established the lawn-watering restrictions, said his agency's patrols in other counties during the past two years resulted in nearly 10,000 warning tickets. Of those, only 350 involved fines.
"Just talking to people seems to make a huge difference," Brandes said.
During the daylight-saving period from mid-March through early November, lawn watering is limited to twice a week in much of Central Florida. But during the cooler stretch from early November through mid-March, when lawns need less water, the limit is once a week.
Homes with odd-numbered addresses can water lawns on Saturdays, and homes with even addresses are allowed to do so on Sundays.
Running lawn sprinklers also is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — the hottest part of the day when a significant amount of water evaporates before soaking into the ground.
OUC customers can call 407-658-7777 to report violations.
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