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Water supplier to ask for strict enforcement

Tampa Bay Water wants a crackdown on outdoor watering so that it doesn't exceed its pumping permit.

By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 25, 2002

Tampa Bay Water wants a crackdown on outdoor watering so that it doesn't exceed its pumping permit.

CLEARWATER -- Some 75,000 water customers in southern Hillsborough County may face tighter water-use restrictions this summer as the area's largest water supplier attempts to avoid hefty fines for violating its pumping permit.

The board of Tampa Bay Water voted Monday to ask the Hillsborough County Commission to clamp down on outdoor watering in Brandon, Ruskin, Riverview, Apollo Beach and Sun City Center, particularly next month. Commissioners are expected to discuss the issue at a meeting today.

Exceeding the permit issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, could bring the supplier fines of up to $10,000 a day, Tampa Bay Water officials said.

The two Hillsborough commissioners on the board, Chris Hart and Ronda Storms, went along with the vote while making it clear that they did not support any long-term ban on outdoor watering.

Noting how important agriculture is to Hillsborough's economy, Storms said, "We're not prepared to say for the duration of the summer we're going to devastate our economy."

Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala suggested that agriculture be exempt from any such ban, which would affect only lawn-watering.

"In order to put in lawns and plants, you have to buy them," Storms snapped at Latvala. If there's no watering allowed, she said, people won't buy the plants and shrubs grown in south Hillsborough. She then added, "I don't know; that may be a novel market concept you don't get."

While Storms defended the rural water users, Hart spoke on behalf of people who bought property in the suburbs, saying, "part of that lifestyle is to have grasses that are green."

It's the utility's responsibility to provide the water necessary "to have the lifestyle that we've signed up for," Hart said.

Nevertheless, Hillsborough County officials mailed out letters last week to about 6,000 of the heaviest water consumers in the area east of Interstate 75 and south of New Tampa and Temple Terrace, urging them to cut back. The letter, signed by water department director Michael McWeeny, said the county needed to reduce usage by 1.5-million gallons a day.

"If every customer saves just 20 gallons a day, we will reach our goal," McWeeny wrote. "Reducing sprinkler times by 2-3 minutes each cycle will save that amount in a month."

Tampa Bay Water officials have tried repeatedly in recent weeks to persuade Swiftmud's leaders to approve an emergency or temporary change in their pumping permit for southern Hillsborough, but to no avail, Tampa Bay Water executive director Jerry Maxwell said.

"We've got an unequivocal obligation" to continue to provide the water demanded by the users, Maxwell said. But if the county clamps down a bit and persuades people to cut back, he said, "we'll have done everything we can do."

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