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County resists watering limits

Preferring voluntary conservation, Citrus holds off on imposing stricter water regulations, even as a Swiftmud resolution urges greater restrictions.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2000


SUGARMILL WOODS -- Vickie Reed's job suddenly got busier in recent weeks after counties to the south responded to drought conditions by placing tougher restrictions on water use.

The secretary with the Citrus County Utilities Division had her ear glued to the receiver, handling a barrage of calls about local restrictions on watering lawns.

"Our phone rang off the hook, concerned residents calling in wondering if we had gone to one day," she said. "I had calls for days."

For the time being, Citrus residents and business owners can continue to water their properties twice a week, according to limits set by the Southwest Florida Water Management District during the early 1990s and modified by Citrus County in 1998.

But the district indicated this week it would not mind if the public went further to save water.

Swiftmud's governing board passed a resolution asking local governments in the 16-county district to push for greater conservation, through additional restrictions if necessary. Members would like to see homeowners and businesses, including golf courses, drop their watering from two days a week to one day.

If water supplies continue to dwindle, they didn't rule out using their authority to impose restrictions.

Whether people will be willing to go along with Swiftmud's request, despite their concerns about lack of rainfall, is unclear.

Ralph Neeley, a member of the Sugarmill Woods Civic Association, said he doubted residents would drop down to once-a-week consumption without being forced to.

The future of water conservation, Citrus County council member Gus Krayer said, may lie in voluntary restrictions.

Krayer, who heads the council's water quality committee, said the entire body will discuss Swiftmud's resolution at its April 12 meeting. The council, which represents civic groups and neighborhood associations throughout Citrus, could help spread the word about reducing water consumption, he said.

"We are concerned about the drought," he said.

Despite the shortages throughout the area, further restrictions are not justified at this time in Citrus, Commissioner Gary Bartell said.

"Any voluntary conservation is something all of us as individual citizens need to do," he said. "I don't see imposing anything. I don't believe the crisis is in our immediate area."

Florida Water Services is urging its approximately 20,000 Citrus customers to follow local regulations, spokesman Tracy Smith said. He said the company's Web site at http://www.florida-water.com allows customers to assess their water use and find ways to use less.

The Swiftmud resolution cast a wide net, which fell upon recreational users as well. Plantation Inn golf course superintendent Glenn Oberlander was careful about giving up watering twice a week, but he said the facility tries hard to limit water use.

"We have a lot of tools we use beside turning the sprinkler on. It's called micromanagement," he said. "We have products that allow us to use less water. We manage every day instead of just turning the (water) clock on.

"We're a business, too, so we can't just shut everything down and let everything die," he said. "But green isn't always better."

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