With water levels and groundwater low and no rain in sight, Pasco and Pinellas officials toughen the rules.
By EDIE GROSS
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000
Pinellas and Pasco counties instituted emergency outdoor watering restrictions Tuesday, and St. Petersburg's mayor said he will recommend that his city follow suit next week.
In Pinellas and Pasco, outdoor watering is now restricted to one day a week. Both Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa took similar steps last week.
St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer said he will ask the City Council on March 30 to do the same and take those restrictions one step further: For the first time, the council will be asked to restrict the use of reclaimed water to two days a week. Currently, reclaimed water use is unlimited.
"The water levels and the groundwater around our well fields are about as low as I've seen them in my career, and there's no forecast for rain," said Pinellas Utilities Director Pick Talley. "We're in for a tough time this year."
The Pinellas County Commission adopted its staff's recommendation unanimously Tuesday night, five days after officials in Tampa and Hillsborough County limited their residents' water use and several hours after Pasco County commissioners did the same.
Property owners in unincorporated Pinellas County and in 19 cities that use county water can water their lawns before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. on Sundays if they have odd-numbered addresses and on Tuesdays if they have even-numbered addresses.
St. Petersburg, which is not bound by the county action, seems certain to follow.
"We will conform to the area because we're all getting water from the same source," Fischer said. "We wouldn't look very good if we didn't restrict."
Water usage in Pinellas County this time of year usually does not go higher than 78-million gallons a day, Talley said. On a watering day last week, usage topped 88-million gallons, he said.
The story is the same throughout the Tampa Bay region. Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough usually use about 240-million gallons a day this time of year. The combined usage this year has reached 280-million gallons a day.
Pinellas County's newest restrictions do not apply to people using reclaimed water or to those with private wells, and people with new houses have 30 days of unrestricted watering. The rules also do not affect Gulfport, which uses water from St. Petersburg; South Pasadena, which uses reclaimed water; and Dunedin and Belleair, which use their own water.
Dunedin and Belleair already limit residents to watering once a week. Gulfport and St. Petersburg city officials are considering limiting use in their cities as well, though St. Petersburg's proposal would not change the current rules for residents with private wells.
Pasco County commissioners, who restricted one-day-a-week watering to before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m., said they realized they were giving their residents short notice. But they said the lack of rain has made extreme measures necessary. Rainfall is 11 inches below normal for the past 12 months.
"We're in a crisis. We have a drought," Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said.
Restrictions seem to be working in Tampa. On Saturday, water consumption was 70.4-million gallons, down about 12-million gallons from either of the previous two Saturdays when watering was still legal.
Pinellas County's restrictions take effect immediately, but county employees probably will give violators warnings during the first two weeks, Talley said. Repeat offenders can expect citations ranging from $60 up to $500, he said.
The Utilities Department has offered overtime to employees willing to patrol neighborhoods for violators after hours.
Some residents have already begun griping, said Commissioner Bob Stewart.
"We've gotten a couple of calls from people who heard this might be coming up, saying, "Don't support restrictions. I've got too much money in my lawn,' " Stewart said. "I'm saying these people have misplaced priorities."
St. Petersburg officials expect the phones to begin ringing today too, even before the City Council takes up the proposal. The calls are likely to come from reclaimed water users who paid hook-up fees for the promise of unlimited usage at a flat monthly fee of $10.36.
"There will probably be some criticism," St. Petersburg Public Utilities Director Bill Johnson acknowledged. But he pointed out that lawns irrigated with drinking water are proven to do fine on two waterings per week. "We're not going to recommend something that's going to be detrimental to their lawn."
The City Council will consider assigning reclaimed water users to two pools, each of which would be assigned two different watering days. On one day of the week, reclaimed watering would be prohibited for everyone, which would let the city's tanks fill up.
Talley said this is probably the first time in the last 20 years that Pinellas County has had to restrict lawn watering to one day a week because of drought conditions. He said he hopes residents will cooperate.
"We're talking about a health and safety issue. One day a week, we'll survive," Talley said. "The lawn won't be as green as you want it to be. It may look a little wilted. But it won't die."
The Tampa Bay Water board has asked the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, to restrict water use in all 16 counties in its district. Swiftmud's governing board will take up the matter Tuesday, said spokesman Michael Molligan.
- Times staff writers Amy Wimmer, Alisa Ulferts and Bryan Gilmer contributed to this report.