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Suncoast officials urge residents to conserve during abnormally dry season

SARASOTA-MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- This year's dry season is at a point that dozens of Florida counties have been put under water shortage warnings.

More than eight million people in the South Florida water district, with a border in charlotte county are being urged to conserve and follow local lawn watering rules.

"Freshwater is a commodity here in Florida, so you don't want to be wasteful with that," says Mike McLaughlin, director of horticulture at Selby Gardens in Sarasota.

McLaughlin says it's been a long dry season due to high temperatures, high winds, and only half of the total rainfall normal for this time of year.

"What makes this season particularly tough is we've been in conditions like this since last fall."

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, or SWFWMD, has a close watch on our water supply.

"We're monitoring all the levels, we're looking at natural occurences and what our water supplies are, and we have ample supply right now," says Terri Behling, external affairs manager at SWFWMD. "Right now we are sticking with our year-round water conservation measures."

PHASE ONE OF THOSE MEASURES PERTAIN TO YARD MAINTENANCE. In all of Manatee County and the City of Sarasota, residents can water only twice a week through July 30. Even addresses may water on Thursday and/or Sunday, and odd addresses may water on Wednesday and/or Saturday; and never between 10 am and 4 pm.

Sarasota County is more stringent, and residents can only water one day per week. Even numbered addresses may water only on Tuesday.

Odd numbered addresses may water only Thursday.

If the drought continues, water levels in Lake Manatee indicate at least 160 more days of water supply for Manatee County. The Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply which serves Sarasota County has 10 months.

"We're about to go into the wet season so we're hoping we can sustain until then," says Behling. "So we are asking all of our residents in your viewing area to conserve water where they can."

Some advice from McLaughlin, laying down mulch to retain moisture, hand watering certain areas, and targeting deeper roots.

"We'll water less frequently, but deeper, longer run times so that water penetrates deeper into the soil and encourages plants to root deeper down as well," he says.

Places like Selby Gardens and other public large properties like golf courses don't have to worry about droughts since all their water comes from the city's reclamation plants.