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Residents weigh in with 'water hog' remedies

Hillsborough officials are gathering conservation options to present to the County Commission on March 27.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001

LUTZ -- Skyrocketing water rates. Mandatory water conservation classes, with a fine for anyone playing hooky. Disconnections of sprinkler systems that overwater lawns.

Those are a sample of the suggestions Hillsborough County officials heard last week when they came to Lutz, lair of some of the county's most diehard lake lovers.

They heard from the president of the garden club, whose husband said of water hogs: "You've got to hit these people with a hammer."

They heard from a bass fisherman on Lake Stemper, which has withered from 125 acres to a few shallow ponds.

And they heard from water warrior Gaye Townsend -- so vocal that Pinellas County sued her in 1997, and so tenacious that Pinellas paid her $96,000 to settle the suit.

"We're going to be known as the worst generation in history on the environment, because we knew better," Townsend told the county officials.

The goal of Thursday's meeting was to add residents' ideas to a set of water conservation options that go to the Hillsborough County Commission on March 27 as the area wilts in a two-year drought.

"They get calls daily," said Jim Porter, the chief assistant county attorney who conducted the meeting. "They get e-mails daily about new developments being approved while other people's lawns are dying."

Yet stopping rezonings in northwest Hillsborough has been ruled out as too likely to polarize people. Still being discussed are tightened conservation requirements and more consideration of the water supply during rezonings.

Staffers have taken lists of such options to home builders, Sierra Club leaders and neighborhood activists, to name a few.

In Lutz, they encountered some 20 residents in an area studded by lakes and drained by public well field pumping.

The dropping underground aquifer has caused lakes to shrink, houses to sink, household wells to run dry and property values to drop, Townsend complained.

"I want somebody to be responsible for these people," she said.

Bonnie Pomeroy, who lives on Lake Keystone, said her well occasionally draws dirty water even though it's 200 feet deep.

She recommended the mandatory classes, plus county rebates to well users who retrofit devices such as shower heads and toilets with water-stingy replacements.

Pomeroy also suggested that the county enlist water enforcers in every neighborhood, and give them the power to levy fines.

Jerry Jordan, the bass fisherman on Lake Stemper, said the county should disconnect any sprinkler system that a resident overuses, and should raise water rates "like gasoline."

"We've lost three wells already in my neighborhood, and they're still throwing water in the streets," he said. "It ought to be just ridiculous what you have to pay when you're a water hog."

Larry Padgett, who lives on Lake Allen off Lutz-Lake Fern Road, suggested that subdivisions be required to have sewer systems that disperse "gray water" on site instead of pumping it to distant sewer plants.

"Unless you have regulations that can be enforced, they're useless, absolutely useless," said Jeff Means, who lives on Lake New Ryan off Newberger Road. "Make sure you have a stick. You've got to have a stick and you better have a big one."

- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 226-3469 or

To contribute

You can comment on water conservation options via mail to Jim Porter, County Attorney's office, P.O. Box 1110, Tampa, FL 33601, or e-mail to County staffers are requesting such opinions by March 20.

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