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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2000
TAMPA -- Tampa has tightened the tap on non-essential water use, leaving residents to deal with brown lawns, dying sod and dirty cars until a persistent drought breaks.
City Council members approved a tough emergency ordinance Thursday that immediately scaled back outdoor irrigation to one day a week.
The ordinance provides few exceptions. New lawns and plants, previously given a 30-day pass on watering restrictions, fall under the same rules as established lawns. Homes and businesses that use well water also must observe the once-a-week restrictions.
The rules let homes and businesses with even-numbered addresses water on Tuesdays, odd-numbered addresses on Sundays.
Also outlawed under the ordinance:
Using commercial car washes is allowed.
Tampa Mayor Dick Greco said dangerously low levels in the Hillsborough River, the city's primary water source, leave officials no choice but to cut water use.
Rainfall is 11 inches below normal for the past 12 months. That has slowed the river's flow to 26.5-million gallons a day, the lowest rate in the last quarter-century, said Water Department director David Tippin.
Making matters worse, Tippin said, warmer-than-normal winter weather means more water is evaporating from the river. Some 11.4-million gallons is lost to evaporation daily, about as much as water customers use for outdoor irrigation, Tippin said.
The area is just moving into the traditional dry season that lasts through mid-June. About 37-million gallons of the 83.6-million used by city customers Wednesday was purchased from Tampa Bay Water, the area's public water supplier, Tippin said.
If conditions don't improve by mid-July, he said, Tampa's reservoir will hold only a one-day supply. The city is already pumping water into the reservoir from the Tampa Bypass Canal and Sulphur Springs.
Water officials are looking into unclogging Blue Sink, a sinkhole that used to feed creek water into Sulphur Springs until the 1970s. That would add 6.5-million gallons to the reservoir each day.
Tippin left open the possibility of further tightening restrictions, including an outdoor watering ban, if Tampa's thirst for water doesn't drop significantly.
"If we don't get demand reduced, I'll be back requesting more restrictions," he said.
Council member Bob Buckhorn questioned why the Water Department didn't begin enforcing water restrictions before last month.
The St. Petersburg Times reported Wednesday that Tampa didn't write a single warning or violation from July 1999 through January, a period when water cops in unincorporated Hillsborough and Pinellas counties caught hundreds of violators each month.
Tippin said his department doesn't check except in the spring dry season, choosing to rely on public education programs to encourage water conservation.
"It seems to me a citation is an awfully good form of education," Buckhorn said.
Four inspectors hired by the city were instructed Thursday to stop issuing warnings and cite even first-time violators, Tippin said. The first citation usually costs $35, he said, but fines can go up to $500.
Four more inspectors should be on the job next week, said India Williams, the Water Department's consumer affairs manager.
Telephones at the department began ringing Thursday afternoon as news of the new restrictions spread, she said.
"There's a lot of calls about new lawns and landscapes," she said. "It's not any fun saying they're heavily restricted."
Tampa is the first community in the area to tighten restrictions because of the drought.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District board, which regulates water use across a 16-county area of west-central Florida, will take up the issue at its March 28 meeting, said spokesman Michael Molligan.
-- Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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