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    Heavy rains refilling depleted ground water

    The Hillsborough River and parts of the Floridan Aquifer return to healthy levels. Other parts and some strained lakes and wetlands, however, are not as full.

    By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 4, 2002

    Soaked with heavy summer rains, the Floridan Aquifer is engorged with water as it hasn't been for years.

    To be sure, the Tampa Bay region has yet to recover fully from decades worth of excessive pumping of ground water.

    But downpours in June and July have raised the aquifer beneath Pasco, northern Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to 2.94 feet above the minimum healthy level. That's 3 1/2 feet above readings taken last year at this time.

    The Hillsborough River is no slacker, either. Starting in southeast Pasco and representing Tampa's main source of drinking water, the Hillsborough is a relative torrent.

    Water from the 1.6-billion-gallon Hillsborough River Reservoir in Tampa spilled over its dam July 4, sooner than the Southwest Florida Water Management District had expected.

    "We seem to be back into a normal cycle of rainfall," water district spokesman Michael Molligan said. "The prediction is some type of El Nino coming, which will be good because we will have additional rain in the fall and winter."

    Still, don't look for any letup in once-a-week lawn watering restrictions reimposed last year in the face of less-than-normal rain.

    Molligan said those parts of the aquifer under the region's 11 main public well fields are not as full. Nor are many of the region's stressed lakes and wetlands.

    Even reclaimed water, the deodorized byproduct of sewage treatment used to water lawns, is rationed. New regulations will encourage counties and cities to install household meters for reclaimed water.

    "At one time, reclaimed water was a disposal issue: Let's give it away to folks and tell them to use as much as they want," Molligan said. "But as time goes on it's become less of a disposal issue and more of a resource."

    Warren Hogg, a hydrogeologist with Tampa Bay Water, the water wholesaler that supplies Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough, said irrigation shouldn't even be an issue.

    Even in the heat of summer, lawns and landscaping require no more than a inch of water a week, he said.

    "The rain is coming down so hard, we don't need to water once a week. We don't need to water at all," Hogg said.

    Illustrating how the rain has eased water consumption, the regional water system pumped an average of 284-million gallons of water a day from its well fields and the Hillsborough River in May, the month with the highest demand.

    By the end of July, daily demand had shrunk to 213-million gallons, at least 60-million of that coming from the swollen Hillsborough, the rest ground water.

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