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Water use takes dip, then surges

Officials in Hillsborough try to account for Sunday's surprising increase in water use.

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Current watering rules

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2000

TAMPA -- Water use in Tampa and Hillsborough County dropped through much of last week, an encouraging sign that once-a-week watering restrictions improved conservation.

Then there was Sunday, when the demand for water jumped significantly in both the city and unincorporated Hillsborough County. Tampa pumped 86.3-million gallons of water on Sunday, a 28 percent increase from the day before and a 17 percent increase from the previous Sunday.

On the same day, the county water system pumped 63.8-million gallons of water compared to 51.3-million gallons the previous Sunday. That's more than on any other day so far this year.

After signs that tougher restrictions were having an effect, Sunday's big spike in demand surprised city officials.

"It's much higher than we had hoped," city water consumer affairs manager India Williams said Monday. Generally, the demand for water goes up 12-million to 13-million gallons from a non-watering to a watering day. On Sunday, demand jumped more than 19-million gallons from the previous day.

"It's fine to water, if that's your allowed day, but we hope that people are watering efficiently and wisely," Williams said.

Hillsborough County water conservation manager Norman Davis said some increase in demand was to be expected because residents who had been used to watering on Wednesday probably switched over to Sunday.

City officials say homeowners can reduce waste by watering only when their lawns need it. Here's how to tell when it's time: grass blades start to fold together, grass begins to take on a blue-green color or grass doesn't spring back when walked on.

As an alternative, city officials recommend putting three-quarters of an inch of water on your yard once a week, ideally early in the morning before dawn. You can tell how much water your yard gets by putting four or five straight-sided coffee mugs in the yard, and running the sprinklers for the usual time. If the mugs collect more than three-quartersof an inch of water, cut down on use.

Since increased watering restrictions took effect two weeks ago, Tampa officials have issued 265 citations for illegal watering, and the county inspectors have written 101 citations.

Hillsborough officials have also given out another 199 warnings to residents who were watering on a day that used to be legal under twice-a-week watering restrictions but had since become illegal. Everyone else, Davis said, got a citation.

As of Monday, 57 people or businesses, about two-thirds of them pressure-cleaning businesses, had applied for variances from the city's watering restrictions, which ban car-washing anywhere but a commercial carwash, prohibit pressure-cleaning and don't allow water to be used to run decorative fountains or to fill swimming pools that don't have filters and recirculation systems.

"I came in yesterday and processed twelve (variance applications), and eleven of them were pressure cleaners," Williams said.

-- Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or at

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