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Water fines flowing freely

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 19, 2000


TAMPA -- It has been hectic at the Water Department ever since the city tightened restrictions on water usage, limiting lawn irrigation to a single day a week and refusing to let even first-time offenders off with a warning.

Three employees were shifted to answer the phones Friday, and enforcers in the field have handed out 33 citations since Thursday, when the City Council adopted the new rules.

The citations, which cost homeowners $35, are the first the city has issued since July last year.

"We really hope people understand that this is a very serious situation," said India Williams, consumer affairs manager for the city Water Department. Repeat offenders can be fined $500.

Rainfall has been 11 inches below normal the past 12 months, and the region's dry season typically lasts until mid-July.

In response, the city and the county are limiting lawn irrigation to Tuesdays for even-numbered addresses and Sundays for odd-numbered addresses. The city also banned car washing in driveways and eliminated a 30-day exemption previously allowed for watering newly planted sod or shrubs.

The city and the county have hotlines people can call to report violations. Williams said most calls to the city's line have been about residential users running sprinklers when they shouldn't. No big users, such as golf courses, have been reported, she said.

Water Department workers check the hotlines and relay the information to crews on the street, who then check the address. If an employee witnesses a violation, a citation is issued.

If the employee is late arriving, a letter is sent explaining that someone reported a violation and describing the restrictions that apply.

Williams put three extra people on duty answering the department's telephones Friday, and said they were needed.

"I expected it to be brisk, but it was one call after another," she said. Most callers wanted to have the restrictions explained.

That information is available on recorded messages at both city and county phone numbers, although the county's line continued Saturday to list the old water rules, which allowed lawn sprinkling twice a week. "We haven't caught up," said John Fischer, a spokesman for the county's Water Department.

Williams said that in the past, on a typical day, about 13-million gallons of water are used to irrigate lawns in the city. Today is the first legal watering day since the new rules were imposed, and a big demand is expected.

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