Homeowners Association Receives Florida-Friendly Landscaping Help and Makes an Impact

Doris HeitzmannDoris Heitzmann, a horticulturist and community outreach coordinator with the Pinellas County Extension office, evaluates the landscape at Venetian Bay.

Members of the Venetian Bay Homeowners Association (HOA) wanted to do their part to conserve water, so they looked to the City of St. Petersburg and the Pinellas County Extension office for help.

The Venetian Bay community consists of 22 waterfront and 51 nonwaterfront townhomes in St. Petersburg. In August 2006, Sara Lopez, an HOA board member and secretary, asked for assistance from the city’s water conservation program because the community was using more than 460,000 gallons of water per month for irrigation.

The excess water use led to skyrocketing water bills. One month’s bill reached a record $10,000!

The HOA contacted Chris Claus, the water conservation coordinator with the St. Petersburg Water Resources Department, because reclaimed water was unavailable in the area and the community’s proximity to the coast caused surficial irrigation wells to be too salty.

Claus visited Venetian Bay to evaluate the community’s landscape and determine where the HOA could conserve water.

Through the city’s Sensible Sprinkling Program, the HOA received a sprinkler system evaluation that provided zone-by-zone efficiency reports for each controller. Sponsored by the City of St. Petersburg and the District’s Pinellas-Anclote River Basin Board, the evaluation was provided at no cost.

Claus then linked the HOA board to Doris Heitzmann, a horticulturist and community outreach coordinator with the Pinellas County Extension office.

“I knew that a cooperative effort between the city and the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods (FYN) program could provide the resources necessary to guide this community in developing a long-range strategy that saves water while maintaining an attractive and functional landscape,” said Claus.

The District works in conjunction with the county Extension offices and the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ FYN program to promote Florida-friendly landscaping practices.

Heitzmann recommended implementing Florida-friendly landscaping practices such as adding mulch to plant areas, using drought-tolerant plants and replacing high-water-use annuals with colorful, drought-tolerant ornamental plants.

“What made this project special was working with the city, which provided measured water-savings statistics,” said Heitzmann. “I work with communities every day and while you do see results, they are not as tangible as seeing the concrete numbers provided by the water audit.”

Once many of the water efficiency and landscape recommendations were implemented, the results were dramatic. From July 2006 to July 2007, the HOA recognized an average monthly savings of almost 200,000 gallons — and much lower water bills. During that time, approximately 2.4 million gallons of potable water were conserved, which is a 45 percent water savings. The appearance and health of the lawn and landscape improved as well.

“Not only have we conserved precious water and saved money for the residents by adopting Florida-friendly landscaping, but we also have achieved notable results in design and management,” said Lopez.

In addition to helping the HOA conserve water, Heitzmann and Claus also worked with an HOA representative to create lawn, landscape and irrigation maintenance specifications to assist the community in finding a new landscaping prime contractor who could meet all their needs. Securing a prime contractor to oversee each subcontractor performing maintenance, pest and weed control, and irrigation services eliminated the “finger pointing” between contractors.

“It was impressive to experience firsthand the synergy and great alignment between the city and the Extension office to provide tangible support to those interested in creating efficient and beautiful landscapes,” said Lopez.

Homeowners associations interested in reducing water use and learning about Florida-friendly landscaping practices can visit the District’s web site at WaterMatters.org/yards/. There is also a link at the bottom of the page to access the phone numbers for each county Extension office within the District. In addition, many water utilities provide water conservation personnel and publications to provide assistance.