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WEST PALM BEACH - South Florida water managers approved the region's tightest water restrictions Thursday as drought conditions persist, limiting outside watering to once a week from Orlando south to the Keys.
It is the first time the South Florida Water Management District has imposed the severe restrictions uniformly throughout its 16-county territory. The new restrictions take effect Jan. 15.
Under the new rules, residents with odd numbered addresses can water their lawns from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. or 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays, while those with even-numbered addresses can water during the same times Thursdays.
"There is no encouraging news in the long-term forecast," district spokesman Randy Smith said. "All indicators are that a drier-than-normal dry season is expected. And we hit the dry season after a short wet season that didn't get us anywhere near our normal water levels."
Like much of the Southeast, Florida is seeing its worst drought in decades as it enters a seven-month dry season.
Lake Okeechobee, a backup drinking water source for 5-million people and the heart of the Everglades, sits at a record low. Agriculture in the region has already been forced to cut 45 percent of its water use.
The industry, including sugar, peanuts and horticulture, could see up to $1-billion in losses.
Earlier this year, South Florida was placed under the most severe water restrictions with many communities forced to cut back outside watering to once a week. Those rules were eased when summer rains began, but the region didn't see enough precipitation to carry it through the dry season.
Year-round restrictions are also being considered as experts warn drought could become commonplace, at least for the near future.
The water district manages 2,000 miles of canals, the world's largest single flood control operation. Constant manipulation of water is needed to ensure communities aren't inundated during downpours, farmers and residents have water during drought and the Everglades stays wet.
But there is little land to store water for dry times. Millions of gallons a year must be flushed out to sea, wasting what is arguably the state's most valuable resource.
Water managers are working to build reservoirs to store water but the projects are slow-going as federal funds lag and land prices soar.
[Last modified December 14, 2007, 00:04:08]