POINCIANA – For some people – including Jeanette Coughenour – heavy rains can seem like a good reason to stay home, off the roads. That was particularly true this past weekend, when steady downpours blanketed the state for two straight days.
“I think people just kind of stayed home. I know I did,” said Coughenour, who lives in Poinciana. “It was just so ugly out. I don’t think people wanted to drive.”
But while the heavy rains washed out some outdoor events, made the roads messy and led to some inevitable accidents on the highways, it also had a few positive impacts for the region, Poinciana included.
“Certainly, the timing was great,” said Robyn Felix, media relations manager for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which covers Polk County. “We were slightly below our rain levels, and October is the first month of the dry season.”
That’s why the virtually nonstop rain on Oct. 8-9 came as such a surprise, since the rain was steady and often quite heavy throughout the entire weekend.
“It was a no-name storm,” said Coughenour, the manager of the Association of Poinciana Villages, the homeowner’s association that covers the 10 villages in Poinciana. “It was just a weird phenomenon. I don’t remember it happening that much in October, but it was almost like a tropical storm.”
Heavy rains have represented a challenge for Poinciana in past years, since the community underwent a huge building boom in the past decade, and that growth put some solid pressure on the community’s drainage system.
But Coughenour said the heavy rains on the second full weekend of October turned out to be a great test run for that system, which passed with flying colors.
“We had six to seven inches of rain, and it went really well,” Coughenour said. “We were able to absorb a lot of it. It gets to the point where the ground is saturated, and they function well and they’re draining down nicely, too. The APV does such a great job maintaining a master drainage system. We just checked with public works to make sure that was the case.”
It helped the community avoid any possible flooding problems, which turned out to be an issue in other parts of Central Florida – but not in Poinciana, Coughenour said.
Heavy summer rains have created some problems for Poinciana’s homeowners in the past. They have complained about standing water that drains very slowly, and becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects near their property.
But Coughenour said even the heavy rains of the past weekend weren’t strong enough to make this a widespread problem in Poinciana.
“The way Poinciana is designed in the master drainage system and open swale system, you’re always going to have a little bit of water on the ground,” she said. “That’s just how the system was designed. Whether or not it’s enough that it’s going to breed something, it could. Any puddle could have the potential for breeding mosquitoes or whatever. Poinciana was designed that way.
“But the system works,” she added. “With our drainage system, the rain water is being filtered and cleaned before it goes into the aquifer.”
Poinciana is divided between Osceola and Polk counties – the APV office is on the Polk County side – and Felix said Polk in particular benefitted from the rains. At the start of October, neighboring counties like Pinellas and Hillsborough were at fairly normal water levels, she said, but Polk was recording slightly below average water levels.
“Things looked pretty good for our Central Florida region,” Felix said. “But I think if you looked at Polk County, they would be below normal levels.”
After the rainy weekend, “Polk County recorded the highest amount of rainfall for the region, six and a half inches,” she said. “That is more than 200 percent above the normal for October. That’s great for the county.”
In the past, Swiftmud had imposed outdoor watering restrictions in Polk County because of over pumping. This was particularly true in Northeast Polk County around the Four Corners area, where heavy residential development in the past two decades put a major strain on the local aquifer system.
In 2003, Swiftmud even threatened to impose more than $500,000 in fines if Polk County commissioners didn’t address the issue. The fines were waived after commissioners instituted a series of education and conservation measures, including tough restrictions on outdoor watering.
Last weekend’s downpours were particularly helpful, Felix said, because this past summer had been a disappointment in terms of rainfall.
“Usually unless we get tropical activity, there isn’t much rainfall that we see in October and November,” she said. “It was not a productive summer rainy season. April and May were very dry months, and the rainy season was very slow to start in June. August was the only month when we saw above average rains.”
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