Katara Simmons/News-Sun Landscape irrigation for the large lots at the Country Club of Sebring is the main culprit behind the overpumping of water that has Country Club Utilities, owned by County Commissioner Greg Harris, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District at odds.
published: Sunday, August 18, 2013
County to discuss Country Club water use dispute
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING -- The Southwest Florida Water Management District sent a letter to Country Club Utilities warning them of the consequences if a dispute between the district and Country Club Utilities over water usage is not resolved.
On Tuesday, Highlands County commissioners will discuss a letter from SWFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory that was sent to the board members, asking for their help in obtaining compliance on over-pumping issues by Country Club Utilities, the firm is owned and operated by District 5 Commissioner and commission Vice-Chairman Greg Harris.
Water management officials reportedly are unhappy about a decade of overpumpage by customers on that system, something Harris has said he can do nothing about.
Commission Chairman Jack Richie said he had consulted with Highlands County Attorney Ross Macbeth on the issue to see what grounds the commission may have to take some kind of action.
"Ross has told me he will have some legal advice on the matter before Tuesday's meeting," Richie said.
The commission chairman indicated there are three elements involved in the issue. In addition to SWFWMD concerns, there reportedly also are issues involving the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as well as the Florida Public Service Commission.
"We have to do something, but we want to be fair about this," Richie said.
A letter, dated Aug. 13 and signed by Guillory, was sent to residents of the Country Club of Sebring, telling them that the district "currently is pursuing enforcement action" against the utilities system, including litigation. The missive informs customers of the system that if usage is not brought into compliance the utility's permit may be pulled.
Among the things district officials have asked the residents to do is:
-- Encourage the utility to implement water conservation measures.
-- Investigate ways in which you can individually implement or improve conservation efforts.
-- Contact the utility and urge it to address the long-standing violations with the district.
-- Contact the Public Service Commission and request that it consider the development of a water-conserving rate structure for the system.
Harris said the problem with over use has its roots in irrigation.
"These residents have big landscaping," he said. "I don't know that our customers can bring their usage down."
Harris said he has had "tons of meetings" with the residents and has told them in the past that someday such an action might take place. He again reiterated that he has no control mechanism to force compliance.
"I am going to go to the Public Service Commission and the water management district to find out what I can do, to find out if I can disconnect people from my system," he said. "They may have to go to a private well instead."
Harris said the proposed restrictions on residents will be strict, with 150 gallons per person per day being the maximum allowable level.
Outdoor watering uses between 5 and 17 gallons per minute per zone, depending on sprinkler types.
He said the longevity of the problem stems back from the ability of people to pay for the water they use, regardless of cost. However, water management officials have said that fines will be able to be passed along with residents seeing what were termed "substantial increases" in bills and perhaps interruption of service if the over usage did not cease.
While the overpumpage issue reportedly has been going on for a decade, Country Club Utilities has had other problems in the recent past as well.
In 2012, there was a well collapse and a series of problems with pumps and motors that kept residents at the Country Club of Sebring from drinking their tapwater for a time and at least one day where they had no service at all following yet another pump and motor malfunction.
Harris had offered the system to the city of Sebring in 2011 with a price tag of just over $900,000 but was turned down. City officials at the time said they would have had to initiate a half-million dollar project to extend a water main that would connect the private operation to the municipal system.
A number of Country Club residents objected to that idea, saying they did not want city service to be a precursor to annexation.
CC Water (by: Mark Howell - 8/22/2013)
Drop down 10 PSI for the system and see if there is a result. There are also rain detector systems that turn off irrigation unless it is needed. My guess is that 50% of the water used isnt needed by the vegetation. If cooperation isnt forth coming by the residents, let the Permit be pulled so the WMD can issue water saving requirements.
Reality check... (by: D.J. Steward - 8/21/2013)
It doesn't really matter who is whining or not, the reality is:
Tons of Meeting??? (by: 865VK - 8/20/2013)
Show me the minutes...again another lie by the commissioner. Hey city of Sebring PLEASE buy our water!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Annexation will not happen and that is something we should not be scared of.
No Fan of Harris (by: Demosthenes - 8/20/2013)
Harris is an idiot, but what is he supposed to do? This is a problem with too much government micromanagement of what should be private matters. He has no enforcement authority, he can't raise rates without going before a board of idiots, he can't force people to switch irrigation back to wells, he can't forcibly limit water usage, etc.
Whiners?? (by: Bill Payer - 8/20/2013)
Dont classify everyone who lives in the CC the same. Yes there is overusage by people who dont understand how to manually use their irrigation systems. They are watering daily even after heavy rain events. I assume most of these people retreat north for the summer and everything is automated. Greg is a poor manager who offers nothing to the homeowners when there is H2O problems. His famous quote "its not my problem" Well this is your problem Greg cant wait to see how this plays out!
cco sebring (by: badxdog! - 8/20/2013)
get real , barry,how about SNL or highlands ridge water useage, check it out! Do you want to be fair about this?
Water use CCoS (by: waterman - 8/19/2013)
This story, and the claims from ALL parties is so BS as to be laughable. As a resident for 12 years, the DISTRICT, SWIFMUD heros, demagods, whatever? have never,NEVER, sent any notice what-so-ever, Period! To individuals. EVER!
Re: xyz (by: YX6F3 - 8/18/2013)
The county should tell the Country Club to pay up. They are some of the most stuck up, entitled, spoon fed whiners I have ever seen. Make them follow all the rules everybody else has to or face fines. Simple fix.
(by: xyz - 8/18/2013)
Maybe the county could pay the utility fines.
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