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County joins in on water limits

Lawns are restricted to once a week. But unlike Tampa, the county allows new sod to be watered and cars washed in driveways.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 18, 2000

TAMPA -- Following the city of Tampa's lead, Hillsborough County officials have restricted lawn watering to a single day each week for residents and businesses in unincorporated areas.

But unlike the city, the county is allowing its customers to continue watering new sod and to wash their cars in the driveway.

Hillsborough County commissioners on Thursday night reduced the number of days lawns can be irrigated so that city and county residents, some of whom live on opposite sides of the same streets, have the same irrigation rules.

"It was important for the county to enact an ordinance similar to the city to avoid confusion as well as to deal with the problem at hand," County Commissioner Jan Platt said. "There should be no confusion over the fact that there is a drought and there is a serious problem with water supply."

Tampa Water Department workers were inundated with telephone calls Friday from residents confused about the new restrictions imposed by the city.

Most of the questions, said customer relations manager India Williams, came from people with new sod or landscaping, which can be irrigated only once a week in the city. The old restrictions provided a 30-day exemption for new plantings.

In the past 12 months, rainfall has been 11 inches below normal, and the region's dry season usually lasts until mid-June.

The county, which pumps about 34-million gallons of water a day, does not rely on the Hillsborough River as its main source of water as Tampa does. Like the river, though, the wells that supply the county's needs are showing signs of stress.

From February 1999 to last month, demand on the nine wellfields that make up the regional Tampa Bay Water supply system rose 21-million gallons a day. At that rate, demand on the wells would double by 2004.

At the same time, groundwater levels have dropped more than 3 feet, according to information given to county commissioners Thursday night.

In response, commissioners voted to limit lawn watering in the county to Tuesdays only for homes and businesses with even-numbered addresses and Sundays only for odd-numbered addresses. No watering will be allowed between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on any day. As in the city, county residents who have reclaimed water are exempt from the watering restrictions. About 3,000 of the county's 90,000-plus customers have connections to reclaimed water.

Unlike the city, the county did not extend its water-use ban to activities such as car washing. That's because officials thinks lawn irrigation accounts for a huge percentage of overall water use.

"There is sufficient water to meet all of our needs if we will use the water wisely and not waste it," said Michael W. McWeeny, county water department director.

County residents who violate the restrictions face fines of $40 for their first and second offenses. Additional citations carry a mandatory court date and penalties of up to $500. Unlike the city, which issued no citations from July 1999 to January, the county issues hundreds of citations each month.

"The fact is, we enforce our ordinance," Platt said.

Platt said the commission also voted to ask each community that belongs to Tampa Bay Water to pass similar restrictions and to ask that the Southwest Florida Water Management District make such restrictions mandatory for its jurisdiction, which includes Tampa Bay. Swiftmud is scheduled to take up that issue March 28.

In Tampa, companies such as AgroTurf on N Howard Avenue were refusing to sell to customers because sod can't survive the first two weeks without daily watering, said owner Tim Ward.

"I can't believe they didn't allow (daily sod) watering for 10 to 14 days or every other day," he said Friday. "It sounded good politically yesterday. But once people's grass starts dying, things will change."

The restrictions on sod could put home builders in a bind.

City building officials won't issue certificates of occupancy on new homes until sod is in place, holding up bank financing and closings, said Scott Shimberg, president of the Builders Association of Greater Tampa.

"That's something the association will need to look into," he said.

City officials are working to remove the sod requirement for an occupancy certificate during the water emergency provided that grass is planted when restrictions are relaxed, said Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.

Businesses and homeowners weren't alone chafing under the new rules.

Kid City, the miniature version of Tampa previously called Safety Village, is wrapping up a $500,000 renovation that includes fresh sod and 28 new elm trees.

The Children's Museum of Tampa has a big fundraiser set at Kid City next Saturday and a "grand reopening" free to the public April 2, said Aharon Yoki, director of operations.

"If the children and families come and our grass is brown, it will open everyone's eyes," he said. "Maybe it will make people realize they don't have to wash their cars."

-- Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3383, or at Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at

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