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Water-Related News

SWFWMD ends funding for Florida Friendly program

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By Craig Pittman

TAMPA – Despite pleas to continue it for another year, the Southwest Florida Water Management District board voted unanimously Tuesday to cut off further funding of the Florida Friendly Landscaping Program.

Without the $500,000 that the agency commonly known as Swiftmud was spending to help homeowners use less water for sprinkling their lawns, officials from 16 counties in the region will have to scramble to find their own funding or else shut down the program.

Swiftmud chief of staff David Rathke said the agency had announced in 2008 that it would phase out its funding for the program in five years, "and here we are in year five."

But officials from several counties said they had not been notified prior to last month that Swiftmud would be pulling its financial support.

"We're trying" to find funding to continue the program, said Doris Heitzmann, Pinellas County's Florida Friendly Landscaping outreach coordinator. "But it's very late in the process."

Representatives from Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco and Marion counties asked Swiftmud's board to continue funding for at least another year, giving them more time to find the $30,000 to $40,000 per county that Swiftmud had been supplying for a decade.

But Rathke said the agency wants to shift its support to a marketing program called Water Star that's aimed at persuading builders and developers to build homes and businesses that don't use so much water.