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Officials: Water as we
say, not as we did

Some who cut back outdoor use, including Tampa's mayor, have been using far more than the county's residential average.

photo
[Times files, 1999]
Tampa Mayor Dick Greco says his lot in The Reserve in Tampa Palms is larger than the city average, and big homes with big lots need more water for lawns.

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000


TAMPA -- Shortly before he signed an emergency ordinance that forced residents to cut back on lawn watering last week, Mayor Dick Greco made a public plea for everyone to pitch in during the city's drought-driven water crisis.

"We want people to take it seriously," he said before the City Council and an array of television cameras. "We want to ask people to please understand: You put everybody in jeopardy if you waste water."

But at his own Tampa Palms home, Greco hardly keeps a tight hand on the spigot.

Over the past year, the mayor and his wife used an average of 43,250 gallons of water each month, nearly six times the average for Tampa households. The water they used for the whole year, 519,000 gallons, would more than fill the main tank of the Florida Aquarium.

Greco says he had a couple of big water bills since moving into the new home last year on a half-acre in the Reserve, Tampa Palms' most upscale community.

Except for the months he watered his new sod and had a broken pool pipe, Greco says, his water consumption wasn't unusual for someone with a large home and a big, well-landscaped yard.

"My lot is equivalent to three or four lots in the (older sections of the) city," he says. "It's a different lifestyle. If you build a huge house with a big lot, you water a lot."

A city Water Department survey last year of 214 New Tampa homes with sprinkler systems showed they consumed on average 952 gallons a day, nearly four times the citywide average. But with a 1,422-gallon daily average, Greco easily eclipsed that number.

The St. Petersburg Times checked a year's worth of water bills for Hillsborough public officials who had a hand in reducing lawn watering from two days to one day a week: Greco, County Administrator Dan Kleman and members of the City Council and County Commission.

Greco was easily the biggest water consumer but hardly the only one using far more than the average household's 7,500 gallons a month.

City Council member Linda Saul-Sena's family of four used an average of 38,375 gallons each month at their large Davis Islands home. She did not return telephone calls for comment Tuesday.

Kleman averaged 29,250 gallons a month at his South Tampa home, four times the citywide average. He said his bill for a two-month period last spring spiked because his wife left a garden hose on and it ran for several days when they left town.

Some officials are water misers, using less than the city average. City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda began limiting his watering to once a week a month ago and often let the lawn of his West Tampa home survive on whatever rain fell.

Miranda irrigates the yard on the side of the house with a few weeds, he says, but the rest is nothing but dirt.

"If I was going to eat the grass, I'd water it," says Miranda, the city's representative on the board of Tampa Bay Water, the area's public water supplier. "But I'm not eating grass, and I've got to drink the water."

Residents can use as much water on lawns and plants as they want, provided they irrigate only during permitted days and hours. Odd addresses can water on Sundays, even addresses on Tuesdays. No irrigation is allowed from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Heavy users pay a premium. When residential customers consume more than 19,500 gallons a month, they pay a "conservation rate" of $1.68 per 750 gallons, 64 cents over the regular rate.

The New Tampa study showed that residents with sprinkler systems used twice as much water on lawns and plants than they used inside the house.

Water Department officials urge residents to get free irrigation system surveys. An employee checks timer settings, types of sprinkler heads and how much water goes on different kinds of plants. Residents can call (813) 274-8121 for the survey.

A 1985 pilot program in South Tampa's Beach Park neighborhood cut outdoor water use an average of 29 percent. Only 34 customers citywide asked for surveys last year, Williams said.

Greco wasn't among them. His landscaping company set the timer when he moved in last year, he says, and no one touched it until last weekend, when Saturday sprinkling was cut out.

The Grecos are selling the four-bedroom Tampa Palms home -- touted in a real estate ad as having "uniquely high ceilings, extensive media center & luxurious outdoor pool, patio & kitchen facilities" -- for $775,000.

They want to be closer to downtown and are building a home on Harbour Island. Unlike their current digs, the house will have a tiny yard, no pool and no Jacuzzi, Greco said. But he does not foresee a day when water shortages make big homes and massive yards a thing of the past.

"We should never waste water," he says. "But I'd never want to say you can't build an $8-million or $5-million home. It's up (to the city) to furnish the water."

- Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at huettel@sptimes.com.

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