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Lawn Fertilizer and Tampa Bay  »  What You Need To Know about Reclaimed Water and Fertilizer Use

How You Can Help Save Tampa Bay - Florida lawn reclaimed water

If you're looking for a way to trim water and lawn maintenance bills, while keeping your landscape healthy, irrigating with reclaimed water might provide the solution you need.

In an effort to reduce potable water consumption, cities and counties throughout the Tampa Bay area offer reclaimed water to certain customers. An added benefit of reclaimed water is that it can serve as a fertilizer for plants and lawns.

Reclaimed water is highly treated wastewater that conforms to Florida Department of Environmental Protection standards. The water is piped to residential areas, where it can be used to water lawns, as well as most landscape plants. Its usage is not new. The first system was developed nearly a century ago for San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. In Florida, Tallahassee was the first to introduce reclaimed water - way back in 1966. The City of St. Petersburg first began using reclaimed water in 1977 and now has the largest system in Florida, with more than 10,000 customers.

One of the many benefits of reclaimed water is that it reduces the amount of our limited drinking water supplies that are used for purposes other than cooking, drinking and bathing. Water managers say that 40 to 60 percent of potable drinking water is used for non-potable needs, such as landscape irrigation. In a state where the population continues to increase, and drought is common, use of reclaimed water relieves stress on our groundwater supplies, and helps to keep our wetlands, lakes and rivers hydrated and healthy.

Reclaimed water is also an important alternative to disposal of wastewater into Tampa Bay. Thanks to reclaimed water, several communities in the region have virtually eliminated the practice of piping treated wastewater into the bay - a key reason that water quality in Tampa Bay has dramatically improved in recent decades.

Another benefit of reclaimed water is that it already contains nitrogen, a key ingredient in commercial fertilizer that is necessary for plants to thrive. Applying too much fertilizer, especially during the summer rainy season, can result in excess nitrogen polluting area waterways, causing unsightly algae blooms that can turn the water green or brown, reduce oxygen levels and kill fish and other aquatic creatures.

Using reclaimed water, combined with proper irrigation, can help keep your lawn and plants healthy, while reducing or even eliminating the amount of commercial fertilizer you need to apply. Reclaimed water also can save you money on lawn care maintenance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  How do I find out how much nitrogen my lawn needs?

Horticultural experts have found that Bahia grass in the Tampa Bay region needs 2 to 4 pounds of nitrogen for each 1,000 square feet of lawn each year, depending on the "look" you want to achieve for your lawn. St. Augustine grass requires 2 to 5 pounds of nitrogen. For Bermuda grass, it's 4 to 6 pounds per year.

A:   If a lush carpet of grass is important to you, you will need to apply the higher amount of nitrogen to your lawn. If you are not as concerned about appearance, use the lower amount of nitrogen. Never apply more than one pound of nitrogen at a time.

The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program - which promotes Florida-friendly landscaping that requires less water, chemicals and fertilizers - recommends applying nitrogen fertilizer just twice a year - Spring and Fall - and using a product that releases the nutrients gradually over time ("slow release").

Potassium and micronutrients also are extremely important and may need to be added for complete plant health. Phosphorous is usually not needed in the Tampa Bay region because our soils are naturally high in phosphorous.

Q:  How do I find out how much nitrogen is in my reclaimed water?

A:   The amount of nitrogen in reclaimed water varies greatly by community. If you're tapped into the St. Petersburg system, and irrigate your lawn 2-3 times a week with one-half inch to 3/4 inch of water, you may not need to apply additional lawn fertilizer. In other areas, from 1-4 pounds of additional nitrogen might be needed, depending on the type of grass you have and how lush you want your lawn to look. Your best bet is to contact your local utility to find out how much nitrogen, on average, is in your reclaimed water. You can also contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for specific advice on how much fertilizer your lawn needs, and for help in figuring out how much water your irrigation system is applying each time you run it. Contact information for the Extension office in your county can be found at http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/map/.

Remember that irrigation and fertilization are connected: Each time a lawn is watered with reclaimed water, it receives some nitrogen. Therefore, a green, healthy lawn may not need regular doses of nitrogen fertilizer.

In fact, overwatering can be just as damaging to your lawn as not watering enough, leading to weeds, fungus and disease. Overwatering and overfertilizing also make your grass grow faster, meaning you may need to spend more time and money on lawn care.

Q:  Are there restrictions on reclaimed water use?

A:   Reclaimed water should not be ingested. It shouldn't be used for bathing, cooking or swimming, and is not allowed to be connected to any other water source.

Q:  Is reclaimed water safe for my grass?

A:   Reclaimed water is a perfect choice when it comes to watering your lawn. Not only does it cut down on the demand for potable water, it provides small amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous, so you may be able to cut back or eliminate additional fertilizer applications.

Reclaimed water can be used in automatic irrigation systems, but the system must be disconnected from all other water sources.

Q:  What about my flowers?

Certain landscape plants, like banana, bougainvillea, croton, hibiscus, live oak, and Southern magnolia flourish with reclaimed water.

A:   Others, which are sensitive to salinity, such as azaleas and orchids, don't do so well, since reclaimed water can cause salt to build up in soil. When used on gardenias and roses, take care not to spray the leaves with reclaimed water.

Q:  What about my vegetable garden?

A:   Using reclaimed water on fruits and vegetables isn't allowed, unless they are to be peeled, cooked or thermally processed (exposed to heat) before use. So it's fine for your citrus tree, since you peel citrus before eating, but it shouldn't be used on that juicy red tomato you want to eat whole fresh from the garden.

Q:  How widespread is the use of reclaimed water in Florida?

A:   Florida uses more reclaimed water than any other state. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, more than 660 million gallons are used each day, produced by 430 systems. Besides lawn and landscape watering, reclaimed water also is used to irrigate golf courses and some agricultural crops, and for industrial uses such as cooling towers.

Q:  How do I get reclaimed water?

A:   Because reclaimed water is only available in certain areas, check with your local water provider to determine if you're in a location where you can hook up your irrigation system.

Q:  Where is reclaimed water available?

A:   Reclaimed water is available in portions of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee counties, as well as parts of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Clearwater, Largo, Oldsmar, Palmetto and Zephyrhills. Check with your water provider to learn the exact locations of existing and planned reclaimed water lines.

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