Lakewood Ranch adopts soil sensors designed to save water

srocco@bradenton.comAugust 15, 2013 

The Toro soil moisture sensor is sold at Palmetto's John Deere Landscapes for just less than $200. TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

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LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Lakewood Ranch has adopted a soil moisture sensor rebate program as part of its efforts to conserve water.

The community has been testing the sensors and found that for just four houses, it could save 132,000 gallons of water over a seven month period.

The sensors aren't new. Manatee county has been trying to get homeowners to adopt them since 2003, but finding irrigation companies to install them has proved difficult, said Susan Glasgow, cross connection coordinator for the county.

With Lakewood Ranch making a push now, the program could spread.

Since the July 29 start date, Lakewood Ranch Town Hall has received 250 inquiries about the program and 42 rebate forms have been picked up, but only a handful of residents have had the systems installed. Residents are responsible for finding and hiring an irrigation company to install the system.

The program, co-sponsored by Braden River Utilities, a subsidiary of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch that provides irrigation water to Lakewood Ranch, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the University of Florida, promises a rebate of

up to $495 for the first 400 homeowners who turn in a completed application to Town Hall.

The cost of the soil moisture sensor systems range from $380 to $850, said Jay Hoecker, water supply specialist at Swiftmud. But the installation costs extra and price varies between companies.

"Residents are still a little confused about how (the sensors) work, but as they do their research and get questions answered, they'll become more interested," Lakewood Ranch executive director Eva Rey said Tuesday during an IDA board meeting.

The sensors detect the amount of moisture in the soil through a probe that is buried into the ground at the root zone.

The soil moisture system controls the entire automatic irrigation system and will determine whether the lawn needs to be watered.

Lakewood Ranch is still on a once-per-week watering schedule despite Swiftmud's July vote to allow all water shortages to expire. If more water is conserved, Braden River Utilities could relax the restriction, said Ryan Heise, director of operations at Lakewood Ranch.

Lakewood Ranch's program will continue through Dec. 2013. The refund should take about a month to process after Town Hall receives the completed application and receipt.

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