Tampa officials don't know whether to credit rain or citations as the bay area's worst drought in 10 years continues.
By RICHARD DANIELSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2000
TAMPA -- City officials have ticketed scores of people for violating Tampa's new once-a-week lawn-watering rules, and, in an encouraging sign, water demand dropped over the weekend.
It wasn't clear Monday exactly what led to the decrease -- tougher enforcement, Sunday's rain or something else -- but any conservation is welcome in the midst of Tampa Bay's worst drought in more than a decade.
Consumption dropped to 70.4-million gallons on Saturday, down about 12-million gallons from either of the previous two Saturdays, when watering was still legal.
More promising was that on Sunday, when people with odd-numbered addresses could water their lawns, consumption was about 73.5-million gallons, down more than 10-million gallons from either of the previous two Sundays.
"That's wonderful, because Sunday's still a watering day and, hopefully, everybody got the message and used water a little more efficiently," said India Williams, the customer relations manager for the city's water department.
Meanwhile, residents apparently filled the voice-mail box for the city's water violation hotline with nearly 40 complaints over the weekend. Williams said most of the complaints were from residents turning in neighbors, and some callers reported violations at more than one address.
City inspectors issued 110 citations Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and another 16 by breakfast on Monday. Williams said the city issued no citations on Sunday because it was a legal watering day. The citations carry fines ranging from $35 to $500.
Along with the complaints of illegal watering, "we're getting a crush of telephone calls" with questions about the new restrictions, Williams said. On Monday, about a half-dozen people came to pick up applications for variances from the watering restrictions, which ban carwashing, pressure-washing and filling kiddie pools. To receive a variance, water users must prove the exemption is necessary for public health or safety, that complying with the restrictions would create an undue hardship or that an alternative water-saving plan can be worked out.
Doug LaCrosse, who owns All Florida Pressure Cleaning in Tampa, said he got a couple of calls Monday about the new rules, but they weren't from customers.
"I've had two calls from my competitors asking me what are we doing, and I honestly don't have an answer," he said. In New Tampa, a fountain at the Reserve, the exclusive neighborhood that is home to Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, was running Monday, but it and another fountain would be turned off, probably by this afternoon, to comply with the city's new rules, said Tom Picciano, field superintendent for the Tampa Palms Community Development District.
Hillsborough County water department director Mike McWeeny said the county had received some questions about its new restrictions as well as some complaints of illegal watering. On Saturday, demand was 43.5-million gallons in the unincorporated area; Sunday, it was 51.3 million gallons. Before the new restrictions, McWeeny said, he would have expected demand on both days to be about equal. "I think the difference there represents pretty good compliance," he said.