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Drought less urgent for Citrus

The effects of dry weather are prompting some cautionary measures, but not like in neighboring counties.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000

LECANTO -- As counties to the south toughen water restrictions to combat the ongoing drought, Citrus is looking like the lone area holdout.

Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, as well as St. Petersburg and Tampa, have imposed stiff measures to limit water use. Now Hernando County is signaling its alarm about dwindling water supplies by suggesting tougher limits on residential water use.

Lucky Citrus; the county is water rich compared with its neighbors. With a smaller population and economic base, fewer sources are drawing on the Floridan Aquifer, the region's main water supply.

But restrictions do exist and have been in place since mid-1998. At most, residents can water their plants, flowers and lawns only twice a week.

County governments are allowed to set limits stricter than those set by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, district spokesman Mike Molligan said.

While there is no indication Citrus commissioners are contemplating tougher restrictions, they did recently approve a ban on backyard burns for fear of sparking brush fires, county Fire Services Director Mike Schlaudraff said.

Conditions are so bone dry that parts of Citrus -- Red Level and the Fort Island Trail area -- currently register on the uppermost end of the state's drought index, records show. On a scale of 1 to 800, those areas are ranked above 700. The countywide average is 619.

Last week, a brush fire sparked by a short in an electrical cord eventually burned 550 acres and led to a partial closure of U.S. 19.

"You see that fire in Crystal River? It could happen anywhere," Lane Shepherd, a duty officer with the state Division of Forestry, said Wednesday. "We're surprised it's not popping a little more than it has."

Only a heavy rainfall of 3 to 5 inches will reduce the vulnerability to brush fires, he said. However, rainfall in February was less than 1 inch, just 26 percent of the average, and no one is predicting relief heading into April.

The water restrictions in Citrus are address-specific and affect customers supplied by the county and Florida Water Services:

Addresses ending with 2, 4 and 6 can water on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Addresses ending with 1, 3 and 5 -- as well as properties without addresses -- can water on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Addresses ending with 7, 8, 9 or 0 can water on Mondays and Thursdays.

The burn ban comes on top of Division of Forestry limits on land-clearing burns that mostly affect agricultural and commercial properties, Shepherd said.

The Citrus County Sheriff's Office has not yet issued citations or made arrests for water use and burn ban violations, spokeswoman Gail Tierney said. In recent weeks, the Division of Forestry district office in Brooksville has handed out notices of violation in its local jurisdiction, which includes Citrus.

Shepherd said he is glad Citrus implemented a residential burn ban. Sumter and Polk counties have taken similar steps.

"It frees up the local resources . . . for the actual burns," he said. "A lot of people still don't realize how bad it is."

-- Times staff writer Jeffrey Solochek contributed to this report.

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