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Drought index rises, water levels drop

Posted On: March 27, 2020

Drought index rises, water levels drop

The local fire threat is rising following a month-long dry spell that has turned lawns brown and reduced water levels throughout Volusia County.

“The last time we had significant rain was on February 26,” noted Tom Carey, Volusia County’s pollution control manager. “We have only received .05 inches in March, a month when we normally receive over four inches. There is no rain forecast for the next 10 days, and we’re approaching April, which is historically our driest month of the year.”

Carey noted that well water levels have dropped across the county, some significantly.

The U.S. Drought Monitor has listed Volusia County as “abnormally dry,” one step short of declaring a moderate drought.

Lawn care

So, what’s a homeowner to do?

“We encourage residents and business owners to adopt a multi-pronged defense to keep their lawns healthy during the dry spell,” said Brad Burbaugh, director of the University of Florida/Volusia County Extension.

First, he said, follow the county’s irrigation ordinance and water your lawn twice a week, which is sufficient to keep your lawn alive and well. According to the ordinance:

  • People who live at odd-numbered addresses may water Wednesdays and Saturdays, and people at even-numbered addresses may water Thursdays and Sundays.
  • Businesses may water Tuesdays and Fridays.
  • Each zone of your irrigation system may be watered no more than one hour or three-quarters of an inch a day. Watering is not permitted between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • The watering restrictions apply to all county residents, including those who live inside city limits, and to all sources of water, including municipal supply, wells and surface water.

“Mow at the highest recommend setting for your turf species,” Burbaugh added. “St. Augustine is the dominant grass in our area and should be mowed to a height of three to three-and-a-half inches. This will encourage deep rooting and aid in moisture retention.”

He offers these additional lawn care tips:

  • Don’t overwater. Most turf damage is actually caused by over-watering. The University of Florida recommends that people apply a half-inch to three-quarters inch of water per application.
  • Water early in the morning, preferably between 4 and 8 a.m. Watering in the afternoon will waste water, because the water will evaporate before it can soak into the soil and be absorbed by the roots.
  • Sharpen your mower blades to make a clean cut. These cuts heal faster and stress the grass less than a cut made with a dull blade.
  • It’s okay to fertilize lawns that are adequately watered. Do not fertilize dry turf.
  • This is no time to use weed killers, which can stress a healthy lawn even at the best of times. If necessary, you can spot-treat lawn pests with pesticides.

For more information about lawn care, call the University of Florida/Volusia County Extension at 386-822-5778.

Fire safety

Volusia County’s Keetch-Byram Drought Index is 422, up from 361 a week ago. The drought index measures soil dryness on a scale of 1 to 800, with one being saturation and 800 being desert-dry.

Scott Smoak, a battalion chief with Volusia County Fire Rescue, urges residents to be cautious with outdoor activities and offer these wildfire safety tips:

  • Do not discard cigarettes from moving vehicles.
  • Do not park a hot car or operate all-terrain vehicles on dry grass.
  • Check lawnmowers and farm equipment for properly working spark arresters.
  • Extinguish fires when cooking outdoors, and never leave fires unattended.
  • Design and landscape your home with fire safety in mind. Allow a 30-foot buffer of non-combustible material around your home. Use non-combustible materials on the roof and clean the roof and gutters regularly.
  • Teach family members how to use a fire extinguisher.
  • Test smoke detectors regularly.
  • Inspect chimneys twice a year and clean them once a year.
  • Rake leaves and dead limbs and twigs.
  • Clear flammable vegetation around your home.
  • Have a garden hose long enough to reach any area of your home and property.

“If a wildfire threatens your area, listen to the media or a weather radio for messages about the danger,” Smoak said. “Prepare your family, pets and supplies in case you have to evacuate. If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately.”

In short, listen to public safety officials and drive away from fire hazards.

A Facebook post was created yesterday regarding the fire danger. View it at  


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