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City sets new limits on reclaimed water

Low pressure due to drought and hot weather this spring lead to three-days-a-week watering restrictions.

By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2002

Low pressure due to drought and hot weather this spring lead to three-days-a-week watering restrictions.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Starting today, the city's 10,000 users of reclaimed water are facing mandatory restrictions that will limit lawn watering to three days a week.

Mayor Rick Baker announced the restrictions Thursday, saying they will last until June 30 unless something changes in either the weather or the utility system.

During that time, people whose addresses end in odd numbers -- 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9 -- can water on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. Those with even numbers -- 0, 2, 4, 6 and 8 -- can water on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. There are no restrictions on what time watering can occur, or for how long.

There is a penalty for violating Baker's order. The first violation will result in a warning, the second in a citation that carries penalties up to $56.

Baker blamed the need for restrictions on the drought and the abnormally high temperatures this spring. The heat has produced systemwide low pressures in the reclaimed water system for extended periods.

"We've had over a hundred phone calls in the last two days from people who say they don't have enough pressure in their reclaimed system," Baker said.

The reclaimed water system relies on 20-million to 23-million gallons a day of treated wastewater from the city's four sewage plants. The water, used only for lawns, is not taken from the overtaxed underground aquifer.

When the reclaimed system was established 20 years ago, the city wanted it used as much as possible because the city gets rid of treated wastewater either by flushing it into underground disposal wells or sending it through the reclaimed system for irrigation. Irrigation is better for the environment.

Lately, though, demand has often outstripped supply -- to the point where a 1999 study of the reclaimed water system recommended permanent watering restrictions to even out demand.

Two years ago the city placed a moratorium on new users after overuse caused some people's sprinklers to run dry. Then last spring, the City Council gave Baker the power to restrict reclaimed water use in emergencies. A month later, on May 3, he used that power to declare the first such emergency and announce limits similar to the ones he is imposing this week.

St. Petersburg's reclaimed water system is not the only utility under strain from overuse.

"We do know that regular water usage has been spiking, and April was very high," said Mike Molligan, spokesman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud.

To make matters worse, rainfall was 3 inches less for the first four months of the year than it should have been, he said.

Bad weather in the North has persuaded some snowbirds to stay in Florida longer than usual, boosting water use here.

In addition to the new restrictions on reclaimed water, St. Petersburg still restricts the use of potable water for lawns to one day a week. Odd-number addresses can water on Sunday, even addresses on Tuesday, from 5 to 9 a.m. or from 7 to 11 p.m.

However, users of private irrigation wells in the city may water one additional day.

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