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    Squirt is gone from fountain landmark

    The city's roundabout fountain still has a pool, but the 30-foot streams have ceased in an effort to reduce water use.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 3, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- The would-be symbol of the city -- the $2.1-million, 180-foot-wide fountain in the Clearwater Beach roundabout that shot streams of water 30 feet high -- will be shut down as long as the Tampa Bay area remains in a water-shortage emergency.

    "We feel the city should set the example by shutting down these kinds of devices," Andy Neff, the city's utilities director, said Monday.

    It's just one measure that the city is taking to try to reduce its water use by at least 600,000 gallons a day in May and June in an effort to meet a mandate by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

    After a Monday workshop, city commissioners are set to vote Thursday to increase fines for people who violate lawn-watering restrictions.

    The roundabout fountain, envisioned as a city landmark by former City Manager Mike Roberto, had been running on a limited schedule of evenings and weekends since last May, mainly because the city didn't want a public relations problem amid the region's drought. It has now been shut down. The fountain recycles its water, but the supply evaporates and must be replenished. In March, for instance, the fountain used about 267,000 gallons of water. In February, when there were repairs and the fountain had to be drained twice, it used 1.8-million gallons of water.

    Some of the repairs were to make water use in the fountain more efficient by allowing water to be pumped into the air conditioning system that cools the powerful pumps underneath the fountain.

    Until the commission decides otherwise, two pumps will be used to keep a minimum amount of water circulating in the fountain, said Gary Johnson, the city's public services director. The city won't drain the $2.1-million fountain, he said, because components could crack and be ruined.

    City officials estimate that by shutting off the fountain and keeping water circulating in the roundabout pool, they could account for as much as 10 to 20 percent of the reduction in water use that the city needs to make.

    The new fines on lawn watering were proposed because city officials felt that the existing first-time fine of $60 was low and took a long time to collect.

    Under an emergency ordinance, which would be adopted Thursday and take effect immediately upon adoption, the city would still give homeowners a warning the first time they are found in violation of the rules.

    Any violations after that would carry a $100 fine, which would be tagged immediately onto the property owner's water bill from the city.

    "You have got to establish a track record of enforcement so that people think you're serious," interim City Manager Bill Horne said. "We have not gotten anybody who has said that the measures that we're proposing are draconian."

    Failure to pay the fine would not result in water being cut off, City Attorney Pam Akin told commissioners. But the city could impose a lien on somebody's property or take the owner to court for violations, Akin said.

    The increased fines would be in effect until Nov. 30, or until the Southwest Florida Water Management District declares there is no longer an area water crunch. The shortage has been caused mainly by the Hillsborough River running low, forcing Tampa to demand more water from strained bay area wellfields.

    The city is also trying to educate residents about how to conserve water.

    Mayor Brian Aungst recently made a public service announcement, which will be airing on C-VIEW. "We're trying to get the message across that this is something we need to deal with, and the city's going to be doing their part," Aungst said.

    Clearwater is offering residents free gadgets that help conserve water, including low-flow shower heads, faucet aerators and "toilet tummies," as well as dye kits that can be used to check whether a toilet leaks.

    The water-saving devices can be picked up at the city's customer service department at the Municipal Services Building, 100 S Myrtle Ave., utilities director Neff said.

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