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Mayor gets keys to sprinklers

St. Petersburg's newly constituted council gives the new mayor the power to declare emergencies involving recycled water.

By LEONORA LaPETER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


St. Petersburg's newly constituted council gives the new mayor the power to declare emergencies involving recycled water.

ST. PETERSBURG -- The City Council Thursday gave its new mayor the power to declare a reclaimed water emergency whenever the city runs short of the highly treated wastewater.

The ordinance was planned long before the city elected Mayor Rick Baker and six council members March 27. It would give Baker the ability to declare an emergency for up to 90 days, once every six months. Residents using reclaimed water would be allowed only three days to water their lawns based on the numbers in their address or face a warning and then a $55 fine for violations.

The council, holding its first full meeting since the election, seemed to be heeding the pledges of some council members on the campaign trail to have less talk and more cooperation. The meeting, which had a full agenda, lasted less than three hours -- about five hours less than a typical meeting of the previous council.

Council members also learned they will have to declare a water emergency in another month to heed the Southwest Florida Water Management District's emergency order that requires member governments to reduce potable water consumption by 5 percent a year, beginning in May.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Kim Streeter said the city already has imposed a lot of the measures required by Swiftmud in its order, including a rate structure that penalizes large users of potable water. City water consumption has decreased more than the 5 percent required in the past year.

But the city might have to take some action, such as banning the use of water in decorative fountains, temporarily waiving enforcement of local codes that require lawns and landscaping on new development and encouraging the creation of shallow wells.

In the meantime, the city has begun hooking up new users to the reclaimed water lines. The city had placed a moratorium on new users after overuse last spring and summer caused the system to run dry for some users.

Council member Bill Foster asked to have the moratorium lifted because so much water is being flushed into deep wells the rest of the year. Adding people to the reclaimed water system will reduce the city's dependency on potable water.

And the ordinance passed Thursday gives the mayor the ability to impose restrictions when there is too much demand.

City Public Works Administrator George Webb said there are 349 people on a waiting list to connect to the reclaimed water system.

Webb said the city has reassigned workers so that there is another crew to handle the connections, which can probably be accomplished at the rate of 30 a month.

Residents may pay anywhere from $800 to $1,500 in assessments for the reclaimed water line and another $250 to $350 to hook up. So far two new users have been hooked up, and applications have been sent to another 169.

In other business, the council:

Agreed to appoint Baker to the Tampa Bay Water governing board, the organization that collects and distributes water to its members, including St. Petersburg.

Learned from City Attorney John Wolfe that he might call a special closed session of the council to consider the city's lawsuit against Bayfront Medical Center. Wolfe said after Thursday's meeting he might be bringing the council a stipulated agreement that would dismiss the lawsuit between the city and Bayfront. A status conference on the case is to be held today in Tampa federal court, and a formal hearing is scheduled for next Friday.

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